The creation of Buckhead City could deal a devastating blow to housing affordability across Atlanta and make living in the posh neighborhood even more inaccessible, experts told Atlanta Civic Circle. Supporters of the exodus effort say that’s nonsense.
Although the controversial prospect of Buckhead seceding from the City of Atlanta hinges on a series of state legislative actions and, ultimately, a vote by Buckhead residents, the implications of the move have some folks worried for the so-called “city too busy to hate.”
Georgia State University urban studies professor Dan Immergluck said Buckhead City “would likely lead to worsening racial and economic segregation.”
Atlanta has long grappled with a widening racial wealth gap, and city planning officials are working to overhaul the city’s zoning code in a way that fosters affordability by diversifying the housing stock and increasing development density. But if Buckhead breaks away, Immergluck said, that could change—at least there.
“The new city would have control over zoning, and, like Dunwoody and other newer cities, it would likely focus on trying to exclude any increase in density and possibly try to curtail multifamily development,” he said.
However, Buckhead City Committee CEO Bill White said in a statement that the notion that Buckhead cityhood would jeopardize housing affordability is “simply false.”
“Certainly, many parts of Buckhead have a traditional single-family structure,” he said. “That being said, there are parts of Buckhead that are already zoned for multifamily housing, and we will work with developers who are seeking to use Low Income Housing Tax Credits and other state and federally-authorized vehicles to develop a wide range of housing options for residents of the new city.”
Maintaining “the character of existing neighborhoods,” White added, “will be important” to the movement. “The City of Atlanta’s recent plans to allow significantly denser housing threaten to upset the character of those existing neighborhoods as well as destroy Buckhead’s beautiful tree canopy.”
“By maintaining local control of zoning and planning, Buckhead City will ensure that all of its residents have a greater say in issues such as housing density, traffic flow, and adequate infrastructure,” White said.
Those are concerns Atlanta planning commissioner Tim Keane has told Atlanta Civic Circle are unfounded. “The protections that exist for trees now would be the same under this ordinance,” he said in September, adding that the proposed zoning code rewrite is “not out of character with our single-family neighborhoods.”
Even if Buckhead City leaders were to embrace increased density—welcoming, say, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) or small apartment complexes in areas where, historically, only single-family homes have existed—it wouldn’t have much impact on the neighborhood-turned-city’s affordability, according to Cecil Phillips, CEO of Place Properties, which develops affordable housing through modular construction.
Today, the idea of affordable housing in Buckhead is almost oxymoronic—particularly for the people who work there, Phillips told Atlanta Civic Circle. “It is highly unlikely any of those Buckhead ADUs would be rented at affordable rates,” he said.
“The only solution for creating affordable housing in Buckhead is either for a public owner (the city or Atlanta Public Schools) to contribute a Buckhead property for affordable housing—which I consider highly unlikely—or a foundation or similar not-for-profit-oriented entity to buy an existing Buckhead site at market prices and contribute the site for affordable housing,” Phillips said, noting the latter is also not likely.
Buckhead’s secession would also hurt housing affordability for the city of Atlanta, Immergluck said, because the tax digest from Buckhead currently accounts for almost 40% of Atlanta’s tax revenue. Without that revenue, the urban planning expert said, “the city would have less ability to raise money for affordable housing programs and incentives.”
Eugene Jones, CEO of Atlanta Housing, told Atlanta Civic Circle that the impact secession could have on the public housing agency’s Buckhead properties is yet unclear. “We don’t know how secession would affect our operations there,” he said in a statement, “and it’s way too early to speculate before any legislative action or a popular vote.”
The Buckhead City Committee contends that the neighborhood’s departure would not affect Atlanta’s affordable housing initiatives. “Much of the funding for affordable housing comes through the state and federal governments, and Buckhead City won’t have an effect on that funding,” White said.