Atlanta’s landmark inclusionary zoning ordinance for the fast-developing Beltline and Westside communities has increased affordable housing stock since it took effect just over four years ago. But so far, it’s produced just a fraction of what’s needed, an Atlanta Civic Circle analysis of city data shows.
Inclusionary zoning is a tactic used by more than 100 cities and counties nationally that requires developers to set aside a portion of housing units in new multifamily projects—generally 10% to 15%—to price at a lower rate, so they’re affordable for lower-income households.
The city enacted its first-ever inclusionary zoning ordinance in January 2018 for the hot Beltline and Westside markets. It covers all new multifamily projects—whether for sale or rent—with 10 or more units. Since then, 35 projects either completed, under construction, or in development in those zones will generate 781 affordable housing units, according to data from Atlanta’s Office of Housing and Community Development.
With more than 6,000 residences built or in the development pipeline in these areas, and considering the city loses upwards of 1,500 affordable housing units annually, that’s a drop in the bucket in the pursuit of housing affordability.
In the Beltline and Westside districts, developers have the option of pricing 15% of a project’s housing units for households earning 80% or less of the area median income (AMI), or 10% of them for those making 60% or less. Developers also can opt out of setting aside any reduced-price units and instead pay a fee of 15% AMI per unit in the development, although none have yet done so.
As of mid-April, the inclusionary zoning program had spurred the creation of 138 completed affordable units in eight multifamily projects—almost entirely in the Beltline overlay district and mostly priced for families taking home 60% or less of the AMI. Another 21 developments that set aside 483 affordable units are under construction, and six others, slated to include 163 additional affordable units, are in some stage of development.
The city launched an additional inclusionary zone in March, 2021 near the new Westside Quarry Park, a magnet for investors and developers, including Microsoft, which plans to build its new Atlanta campus in the area.
The Westside Park Affordable Workforce Housing District inclusionary zone introduced an additional new set-aside option: Developers could designate just 5% of a project’s residences for affordable housing if they priced them for people earning 50% of the AMI or less. Although that would likely yield fewer affordable units overall, the logic went, the ones it did create would be truly affordable for some of Atlanta’s lowest-income people.
So far, however, no one has filed plans for any multifamily projects in the new Westside “workforce housing” zone, according to the City of Atlanta data.
Josh Humphries, the city’s director of housing and community development, told Atlanta Civic Circle that’s likely because it’s so new.
Inclusionary zoning gives Atlanta a much-needed new tool for alleviating the city’s affordable housing crisis, but, as our map of new projects in these zones shows, the zoning is far more limited than the citywide need. As we approach the five-year mark for the inclusionary zoning program, it’s high time to assess expanding it to cover more of the city.