Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms will step down from her post before her $1 billion affordable housing goal can be realized. The city is on track to spend at least that much building and preserving units by 2026 (which would have been the end of her once-envisioned second term). But when Bottoms announced in May that she’d be vacating the mayor’s office after her first term expired, she punctuated the fate of her ambitious One Atlanta: Housing Affordability Action Plan with a big question mark.
Between January 2018, when Bottoms took office, and October 2021, the city committed some $596 million to developing and protecting affordable housing units. That investment went to the creation and preservation of more than 7,000 units—about half of which are “units underway,” per city records.
Even if he doesn’t intend to follow Bottoms’ action plan to a T, City Councilmember Andre Dickens has said, if he’s elected mayor, he’ll be “committed to building or retaining 20,000 affordable units in the next eight years”—or two four-year terms. The promise, made to Atlanta magazine in a September candidate Q&A, mirrors the one that helped propel Bottoms to the city’s chief seat during the 2017 election.
Dickens’ competitor, City Council President Felicia Moore, told Atlanta Civic Circle in June that she’s not as fixated on the numerical goals of Bottoms’ action plan as she is on fast-tracking the development of city-owned land and using other existing resources to bolster Atlanta’s affordable housing stock.
“Right now, we’re at the crucial intersection of executing these things,” she said. “Putting a number on it—a billion dollars—may or may not be where we need to go. This is not always a money issue; right now, it’s a will issue and the ability to get things done.”
All said, though, some housing experts don’t think the One Atlanta plan properly articulates how to fulfill its own lofty goals.
Atlanta Housing CEO Eugene Jones, during a panel discussion hosted last week by Atlanta Civic Circle and WABE, said municipal leaders should develop a comprehensive masterplan that lays out where housing is needed, whose responsibility it is to build or preserve those units, and a timeline that can keep officials on track.
“I don’t want to recreate the wheel. I don’t want to do another study. I don’t want a whole bunch of other numbers,” he said. “We don’t need all of that. We already have the numbers. We have policy. And now we need action.”
Sarah Kirsch, Urban Land Institute Atlanta executive director, said she agreed with Jones. The next generation of Atlanta leadership must paint a clearer picture for the future of housing affordability, not just map out impressive yet vague goals. “The lesson of the last four years is that time is precious,” she said during the panel discussion. “The notion of doing an audit or anything like that—I, frankly, don’t think we have the luxury of time, of taking nine months, twelve months. Because you don’t know what’s coming down the pike.”
Kirsch said the city, even with its current leadership architecture, should capitalize on the financing mechanisms at its disposal, as well as the ones that could materialize soon. Officials just need to find a way to “braid public resources,” like the housing opportunity bond or the proposed affordable housing trust fund, with philanthropic and private funding sources.
That trust fund, a potential dedicated funding source, could be approved at the Nov. 6 Atlanta City Council meeting, Councilmember Matt Westmoreland told Atlanta Civic Circle on Tuesday.
Once ratified, the trust fund would be phased in to commit toward housing affordability initiatives 1 percent of the city’s general fund during the next fiscal year, then 1.5 percent the year after that, and, finally, a whole 2 percent of the Fiscal Year 2025 budget.
When it’s fully effective—barring any financial catastrophes, which could force the city to reassess the allocation—the fund will provide $14 million annually for affordable housing efforts, Westmoreland said.
“There’s been a longstanding conversation about a local recurring funding stream,” he said. “This is that.”
Exactly how the next mayor could marry that program with the other initiatives currently operational at City Hall remains to be seen.