The city of Atlanta could soon gain a housing chief to help the new mayor achieve his goal of producing 20,000 affordable units over the next eight years.

During Wednesday’s Atlanta Regional Housing Forum, Mayor Andre Dickens committed to tapping a chief housing officer before the year’s end, saying his office is already seeking candidates for the executive-level role, which has been vacant since Terri Lee left the post in late 2020. 

“I don’t want to be the chief housing officer, and that’s what I’ve become right now,” the mayor joked.  

Although it’s a lesser-known cabinet job — in part because the position was only created in 2018 — the city’s housing czar is charged with coordinating Atlanta’s push to build and rehabilitate 20,000 affordable units by 2030 amid a worsening affordability crisis. 

That’s no small undertaking, especially as the city loses affordable units much faster than it’s producing them, according to Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) research shared Wednesday. 

Nearly 1,900 homes renting below $1,250 monthly vanished each year between 2014 and 2019, ARC data analyst Mike Carnathan said at the virtual forum.

Compounding that strain, intown rents for a standard two-bedroom have spiked 26% since 2017, which has escalated the number of “extremely cost-burdened” households — people who spend at least half their monthly income on rent — per ARC data. 

Dickens’ announcement comes as the city’s public housing authority, Atlanta Housing (AH), grapples with a 24,000-person waitlist for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-funded Section 8 rent vouchers. 

AH is also under pressure from the mayor’s administration to fast-track the development of hundreds of acres of city-owned land that’s long sat vacant. 

Lee, who left then-Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ office in December 2020 to become AH’s chief operating officer, oversaw the production of thousands of affordable units over Bottoms’ four-year term. 

By the end of 2021, Bottoms’ team had built, rehabilitated, or readied for development nearly 8,000 affordable units — fulfilling less than half of the eight-year, 20,000-unit goal that she, like Dickens, campaigned on. 

Though Dickens has added some housing professionals to his cabinet — including former Atlanta Habitat for Humanity CEO Lisa Gordon and Star-C Communities’ ex-community development director Courtney English — enlisting a chief housing officer could bolster the city’s ability to tackle his housing ambitions.

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