Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ office is still looking for the right person to lead the city’s new Affordable Housing Strike Force, the team he announced during his State of the City address in April, but it is already gearing up to solicit development proposals for city-owned land, officials told Atlanta Civic Circle on Thursday.
The multidisciplinary strike force—made up of city agency heads focused on everything from education to transportation to economic development—is now taking inventory of the hundreds of acres of city-owned property to determine what sites are suited for building housing for lower-income Atlantans, said strike force member Amanda Rhein, the executive director of the Atlanta Land Trust.
Once the strike force has assembled parcels befitting development, the city will send out requests for proposals, said Courtney English, a senior advisor to Dickens.
English and the city’s chief operating officer, Lisa Gordon, are the strike force’s interim leaders, while the city conducts a national search for a “highly competent real estate executive” to serve as its ringleader, he said.
Including leaders from agencies like MARTA and Atlanta Public Schools (APS) is unique, Rhein said in an interview, and better positions the team to effectively assess and develop all suitable city land, beyond Atlanta Housing properties. It adds coordination challenges, she added, but is “theoretically, a more impactful approach.”
“An important aspect of the group is figuring out how these agencies can all work together, when they have land holdings that are in close proximity, to basically create a master redevelopment plan for those properties,” Rhein said. “This is no easy feat, because every public agency has different policies, procedures, procurement requirements, and goals for how their land is used.”
That’s the point, English said—coordinating all these different agencies under one umbrella.
For instance, APS—represented on the strike force by Superintendent Lisa Herring—can outline the educational needs of a certain community as the team crafts a development blueprint for property located there.
Likewise, MARTA, whose interim CEO, Collie Greenwood, is a strike force member, can offer context on nearby transit options, as well as transportation needs. The transit agency also can keep the strike force updated on its own transit-oriented housing developments, which require approval from the Federal Transportation Administration, MARTA chief of staff Melissa Mullinax said.
The same goes for agencies like Atlanta Beltline, the Atlanta Land Trust, Invest Atlanta, Atlanta Housing (AH), and the Metro Atlanta Land Bank.
Rhein said the strike force is still sorting out whether the city will maintain ownership of the land, or sell it to housing developers—with the caveat that they provide affordable housing.
If the city privatizes the project by selling the land, she said, one possibility so the city could retain some control would be to place deed restrictions on the land “to ensure that our public policy goals are achieved.”
Still, it’s unclear when Dickens will appoint a full-time strike force leader.
The mayor said in a text to Atlanta Civic Circle that, with English and Gordon acting as interim team leaders, “the work is still getting done, and the strike force meetings and subsequent conversations continue as though the permanent leader was in place.”