Atlanta Housing’s (AH) plan to reinvigorate the Westside’s former Bowen Homes public housing site with nearly 1,900 new apartments isn’t sitting well with some city councilmembers. Because AH’s sole mission is to house lower-income Atlantans, they say, the agency should beef up the affordable housing component of its ambitious blueprint for the 74 vacant acres, which also includes homes for sale, retail space and community amenities.

AH’s board of commissioners last month tapped a joint venture of The Benoit Group and McCormack Baron Salazar to lead the $607 million project. The developers’ plan designates 502 apartments to be priced as affordable for households earning up to 80% of the area median income (AMI)—or about $77,120 for a family of four.

But earmarking only 27% of the 1,892 planned apartments for middle- and lower-income renters is not nearly enough to combat Atlanta’s affordable housing crisis, City Councilmembers Jason Dozier, Jason Winston, and Dustin Hillis told AH’s chief operating officer, Terri Lee, during Tuesday’s Community Development and Human Services Committee meeting.

Hillis called the Bowen Homes redevelopment “the elephant in the room” because the property is AH’s largest plot primed for an overhaul, but the plan calls for about three times as many market-rate units as affordable ones. The councilmember said he wants to see more apartments priced for households earning under 80% of AMI—and also more for-sale units affordable for people earning that much. 

“Right now, as the numbers work out, we’re only doing 36 ownership units in the 80% or below AMI,” he said of the site’s current development strategy. “I would love to see those numbers up.”

AH’s Lee, who gave councilmembers a quarterly update on the public housing authority’s work, said she welcomed the input and would return to the council with a more inclusive proposal.

“We have heard some concerns about the affordability mix, so we’re working with the development partner to increase the affordability at this particular project,” she said, adding, “When we come back before you for the next quarterly presentation, those numbers for affordability could be higher.” 

After unexpected delays spurred by an unrelated legal feud between AH and developer Integral Group, the agency is finally moving forward with the Bowen Homes revival. It intends to sign a master development agreement with the joint venture partners, known as Bowen District Developers, between April and June 2023, according to AH materials.

Construction is scheduled to launch later in 2023 or in early 2024, with the first phase slated for completion in 2025. The entire project’s development is expected to take until 2032.

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