Atlanta Mayor-elect Andre Dickens will need to get creative in identifying new funding sources for affordable housing, since existing channels aren’t enough to make a serious dent in the city’s affordability crisis, says one local housing and development expert.
“[Dickens] needs to secure a regular annual funding stream for affordable housing, on the order of $40-plus million,” Georgia State University urban studies professor Dan Immergluck told Atlanta Civic Circle.
Immergluck has criticized the city for failing to find new municipal sources to spur affordable housing development, as it’s instead been largely relying on existing resources. Now, the pressure is on for Dickens to bring new fuel to these initiatives.
Immergluck advocates propping up the city’s new affordable housing trust fund, directing Invest Atlanta, its economic development arm, to sharply increase support for this kind of housing, and raising commercial property taxes.
Dickens campaigned on a promise to produce and protect 20,000 units over eight years—or two mayoral terms—just like his predecessor, outgoing Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. He’s told Atlanta Civic Circle that he’s not attaching that goal to a dollar sign.
“Dollars are a moving target in an escalating economy,” Dickens said last week. “The cost of housing continues to go up, so I’m just thinking about units and people.”
Bottoms similarly promised on the 2017 campaign trail to deliver 20,000 affordable housing units over eight years, but also said that, to do it, the city would funnel $1 billion toward affordable housing over eight years.
An online dashboard the City of Atlanta launched last year to track its affordable housing efforts indicates that Bottoms’ administration has been on pace in investing $1 billion by 2026 toward housing—almost $600 million has been dedicated to date–but it also indicates the city is far behind schedule for producing 20,000 units by then, with less than 4,000 units currently available. Does that mean that $1 billion is not enough?
“I don’t take the housing tracker numbers very seriously,” Immergluck said. “They count lots of things that the city has little control over.”
The tracker counts already existing funding sources toward the $1 billion goal, he explained. Those include tax-exempt bonds and federal funds for projects by the city’s public housing authority, Atlanta Housing (AH).
“The One Atlanta Housing Affordability Action Plan outlined that the $1 billion was to include the maximizing of existing public funding sources and the development of new funding sources,” said mayor’s office spokesperson Michael Smith in a statement.
“Consistent with the plan, the housing tracker is clear about what city-controlled public funds are counted and allows the public to see where city-controlled housing investments have been made since January 2018,” Smith continued.
Immergluck said the new mayor can sharply increase the city’s ability to fund affordable housing by deploying several new tactics. “He can do this in three steps,” he said.
First, Dickens must ensure that the city’s newly passed affordable housing trust fund is fully realized, so that, by fiscal year 2025, it is receiving 2%, or an estimated $14 million, of the annual municipal budget.
The new mayor should also direct Invest Atlanta to devote the lion’s share of the property tax subsidies it approves to “deeply affordable housing,” which Immergluck defined as under 50% of the area median income (AMI).”
And third, Dickens and his administration must find a way to tax commercial properties appropriately, the GSU professor said. Commercial properties in Atlanta are notoriously underassessed, housing experts have told Atlanta Civic Circle, which deprives the city of millions in potential revenue.
Immergluck wants to see those properties assessed at what he calls their true market value “by clamping down on the appeals process,” he said, and then devoting at least $25 million to $30 million annually of the new haul to affordable housing.
“Some of these dollars could be devoted to bond funding to raise larger lump sum amounts as needed,” he said.
Developers and property owners will likely “balk at such reforms,” Immergluck said, so the onus is now on Dickens to hurdle those obstacles and ally with Fulton and DeKalb county leaders to make changes.