When Atlanta’s new mayor and city council are sworn in next month, they’ll have a network of public offices at their disposal that are equipped to develop affordable housing. Will they make the most of these tools to create a more welcoming and equitable city?
The city’s public housing authority, Atlanta Housing, is charged with developing and maintaining government-subsidized housing, and then placing lower-income people in those units.
Largely funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, AH has faced criticism for years for leadership shake-ups and lawsuits. Some public officials even consider the housing authority dysfunctional, due to its checkered past, although CEO Eugene Jones has told Atlanta Civic Circle that many people haven’t noticed how it turned its act around when he came aboard in 2019.
Jones acknowledges there are still some 25,000 people on the waitlist for AH benefits—including rent vouchers and down payment assistance—but he says the agency has hundreds of new affordable units in its development pipeline. It will be up to Mayor-elect Andre Dickens and the new city councilmembers to fast-track those projects.
Widely known as an engine of gentrification, the Atlanta Beltline project isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when folks think of housing affordability–but the agency spearheading the construction of the 22-mile concrete loop around the city also is responsible for bringing accessible living to town.
Atlanta Beltline, Inc. (ABI) has been striving to dot the areas around the path with 5,600 affordable and workforce residences by 2030, at a rate of 320 units per year. Since 2006, ABI, with partners, has created roughly 2,666 affordable units near the Beltline, with about 1,000 more in its development pipeline, according to city materials.
The city agency is supported by its own affordable housing trust fund—not to mention AH, the city’s economic development arm Invest Atlanta, and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, among others.
Invest Atlanta is the thread that weaves many of these efforts together. The economic development authority’s board of directors reviews proposed developments and decides whether they merit public financing through grants or tax-exempt bond funding.
Invest Atlanta has been criticized in the past for being too friendly to developers looking to build in already fast-evolving communities, such as around the Beltline. Local housing experts have told Atlanta Civic Circle that the city’s next generation of leaders must push the agency to be more strict about whose projects get propped up and focus on affordable housing instead.
The Department of City Planning doesn’t build housing itself, but it has a major influence on the way developments pan out. The office is currently working to overhaul the city’s outdated zoning code to foster increased density and a greater diversity of housing options.
That effort, though, has received backlash from many neighborhood organizations, especially those located in predominantly single-family communities. Our new city leaders will determine whether the planning department’s mission succeeds.