City leaders, developers, and investors broke ground on 250 affordable housing units in Peoplestown on Tuesday, marking the halfway point for Atlanta Beltline Inc.’s mission to produce 5,600 affordable homes around the multi-use trail — which is now widely regarded as an engine of gentrification — by 2030.
The Skyline Apartments, located at 1090 Hank Aaron Drive — just south of Georgia State University’s stadium (formerly Turner Field) and the rest of fast-evolving Summerhill — will be affordable for households earning 60% or less than the area median income, according to the Beltline, which contributed $2 million, along with additional state and local funding.
Future residents will have access to transit, because the complex borders the Beltline’s Southside Trail at the endpoint for a planned MARTA bus rapid transit line.
“250 [affordable] units is nothing to sneeze at, and I’m glad we’re doing this,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens told Atlanta Civic Circle at the groundbreaking — but he said the pace is too slow.
The Skyline Apartments’ construction pushes Atlanta Beltline Inc., which oversees the trail’s development, to 53%, or about 2,970 units, of its goal to produce 5,600-unit affordable homes within the Beltline Tax Allocation District (TAD), up from only 785 affordable units five years ago. At that rate, it needs to produce 330 units annually to hit the 2030 target.
“The hope was to be beyond halfway by this point,” Dickens said, adding that 5,600 affordable units for the Beltline TAD is a “low goal, in my opinion, as someone who wants to hit 20,000 units.” Dickens campaigned on producing 20,000 affordable housing units citywide by 2030.
“But at the end of the day, we’ve got to keep adding them up as we get them,” the mayor said.
The Skyline Apartments is expected to be ready for occupancy by 2023, according to its developers, Exact Capital Group and Aleem Construction, which is also when the nearby section of the Beltline’s rapidly developing Southside Trail should be paved.
Neighborhoods like Peoplestown that border the Southside Trail urgently need more affordable housing to prevent even more longtime residents from being displaced, said Atlanta City Councilmember Jason Winston, the newly elected representative for District 1, which includes Peoplestown.
“We have to learn a lesson from what’s happened on the Eastside Trail and make sure that won’t happen in southeast Atlanta,” he told Atlanta Civic Circle, referring to the Beltline’s most popular and developed segment, which has driven up property values and priced out many families who had been settled in Atlanta for decades.
In Peoplestown and other southside neighborhoods, there are “people who have been in the community for 30, 40, 50 years that have been longing for development,” Winston said. “But we need to make sure they’re part of it — so police and firefighters and teachers can afford to live where they work.”
As the Southside Trail and its environs are built out, Winston said, he and other city officials must heed community input — and, crucially, find more public funding for affordable housing. “Developers work for profit. There’s not enough incentive for them to have to do these types of projects,” he said.
“5,600 [units] is quite an aggressive goal, and that means families will be able to stay and live in the neighborhood in which they grew up in,” the Beltline’s chief operating officer, Ruben Brooks, told Atlanta Civic Circle.
“Let’s face it: It’s never enough affordable housing, because, even with 5,600 [units], folks will look back and say, ‘I wish we had 10,000,’” Brooks added.
But the Skyline Apartments, notable for being entirely affordable housing, could auger similar future projects, he said. “If we do it right this time, then we can try to replicate it.”
Financing challenges delayed the apartment building’s construction, Brooks added. “With affordable housing deals, oftentimes you’ve got subsidy, you’ve got philanthropic contributions — and it takes a while for all of that financing to coalesce.”
It took developer Exact Capital Group several years to assemble a financing package to offer the units at an affordable price point. It ultimately secured $2 million from Atlanta Beltline Inc.’s affordable housing trust fund, a $40 million tax-exempt bond from Invest Atlanta, and a 4% Low Income Housing Tax Credit from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, among other funding sources.