Details are scarce so far, but the projected $1 billion revamp of the historic Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center site owned by Atlanta Housing (AH) has already stirred concerns over how much affordable housing it will actually add to the already expensive Old Fourth Ward neighborhood.
AH’s board of commissioners on Wednesday tapped the team of Tishman Speyer and H.J. Russell & Co. as master developers for the 14-acre site, which has sat vacant for eight years. AH officials unveiled a few bullet points of the deal before the May 25 vote, but they have not revealed the finer details of the plan. Those could materialize next week, AH CEO Eugene Jones said Friday.
The joint venture’s winning bid promises 1,300 new residences, plus retail, hotel rooms, offices, and greenspace, for the 14 acres wrapped around the iconic Civic Center Auditorium. Of those, 430 are billed as “affordable” for renters earning 100% of the area median income (AMI), which is $86,200 for a family of four, or less. (To put that in perspective, a first-year Atlanta Public Schools teacher with a bachelor’s degree makes less than $50,000 annually.)
But AH officials declined to say on Friday how many of the 430 units deemed affordable will be priced so they are accessible to households earning under the AMI for metro Atlanta, prompting criticism from both constituents and urban design experts.
“Thirteen-hundred units with only 430 affordable is such a waste,” tweeted Chris Test, a concerned citizen, in reaction to the redevelopment plan. “This property could be its own mini-city with 3,000-4,000 units, at least half affordable, with retail.”
Georgia State University urban studies professor Dan Immergluck warned in a tweet after the May 25 vote, “If this major public housing authority-owned site ends up with only 430 affordable units, [priced] at as high as 100% AMI, this will be a major housing policy failure for Atlanta Housing and the city.”
Public housing units generally serve households earning 50% of the AMI or less—and most house people earning below 30% of the AMI, Immergluck explained in an email Friday to Atlanta Civic Circle.
“This is where the greatest need is in the city,” Immergluck said. “Because this site is owned by the housing authority, and because there has been—and will be—a lot of market-rate development nearby, every effort should be made to maximize the number of low-income units on the site.”
The co-founder of urbanist nonprofit ThreadATL, Matthew Garbett, questioned why AH announced such a monumental development deal without making public the actual plan. “This seems like more an attempt to garner press than an actual announcement. Show us the full proposal!” Garbett said in a message to Atlanta Civic Circle.
The Tishman Speyer-H.J. Russell proposal also includes less affordable housing than a plan designed by a team of University of Maryland urban design graduate students. Their plan includes 665 units of affordable housing–over 50% more than the one from the developers—and won a national U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development contest to reimagine the Civic Center.
The students’ proposed mixed-use development, dubbed “Rise of Pines,” features 1,336 apartments and 58 condos, for almost 100 more total units than Tishman Speyer and H.J. Russell’s plan. Of those, 315 units are priced for households earning 80% or less than the AMI, and there are an additional 125 permanent supportive housing units and 225 affordable homes for seniors.
While Jones declined to comment for this story on Friday, the AH chief has previously told Atlanta Civic Circle that some of the Maryland students’ ideas would be incorporated in the Civic Center’s final design, although he did not say which aspects.