The city of Atlanta’s push for affordable housing scored a major cash infusion on Tuesday, when the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta announced a $100 million donation—$75 million from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation and $25 million from the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation—to build and rehab housing for lower-income people.
The Community Foundation announced it aims to raise another $100 million. With the combined $200 million it will start a $100 million GoATL Affordable Housing Impact Fund to provide low-interest loans and a $100 million TogetherATL Philanthropic Fund to build and rehab long-term affordable housing.
Adding to what Community Foundation president and CEO Frank Fernandez called an “unprecedented” financial commitment “that will transform housing affordability in our region,” Mayor Andre Dickens said his office was working with the Atlanta City Council to issue $100 million in new housing bonds to expedite the development of affordable housing on publicly owned land, subsidize existing affordable complexes, and provide additional gap funding for projects that are ready to build.
The combined $300 million is intended to fill funding gaps for “shovel-ready” projects already underway by city agencies and developers, and spur new construction and adaptive reuse projects, Dickens said on May 2 at the Academy Lofts at Adair Park, an old school near the Atlanta Beltline that was rehabbed into 35 affordable micro-apartments by Stryant Investments.
It’s still unclear how many affordable units could be produced or rehabilitated through the potentially $300 million in additional grants and bond funding—and how much the units will cost to rent or buy. Dickens said the city and its private and philanthropic partners are prioritizing mixed-income development to avoid concentrating poverty.
“We want to do mixed-income properties where the school principal, the school teacher, and the school bus driver can live in the same community,” he said. “Some [projects] will be 20% affordable, some will be 50% affordable, and, if they’re senior housing, they could be 100% affordable.”
The announcement of up to $300 million in new housing dollars should prove enticing to Atlanta developers angling for subsidies, but Joshua Humphries, the mayor’s top housing advisor, said the mayor’s office and the Community Foundation will be deliberate about spending it.
“We’ll provide funding, but only on the condition that [developers] set aside a certain amount of affordable housing,” he said in an interview. “We’re meeting regularly with the Community Foundation about how we can leverage public dollars, private dollars, and then philanthropic dollars to make deals work.”
For the rehabilitation funding, Courtney English, the mayor’s chief policy officer said the city should first focus on funding “responsible landlords, whose properties have fallen into disrepair.”
“That’s going to be a carrot and stick approach for those who want to do what’s right,” he said.
“We’re also going to protect legacy residents, while we use Atlanta’s growth”—including this new investment, tax revenue, and other public sources—“to push out those slumlords who aren’t doing right by folks,” English added, alluding to the city’s recently announced Safe and Secure Housing initiative to crack down on negligent and predatory property owners and managers.
For occupied apartment complexes, what happens to renters while they’re being rehabbed? Relocating them would be a major challenge, due to Atlanta’s dearth of affordable housing, which was underscored by the city’s unprecedented and tumultuous effort to rehouse nearly 200 families from Forest Cove Apartments last year, after it was condemned.
Humphries acknowledged that would be difficult, but he said many distressed properties have vacant units that could help the process. “Sometimes there’s room on a property to rehab one unit and move folks somewhere else within the actual property,” he said.
“This is so desperately needed,” Natallie Keiser, the executive director of HouseATL, which is sponsored by the Atlanta Community Foundation, said after the announcement. “We have projects in the pipeline that have existing funding gaps that are sitting and waiting and ready to move.”