Atlanta City Councilmember Jason Dozier has proposed adding an extra $3.5 million to the city of Atlanta’s affordable housing trust fund for the 2024 fiscal year, which starts July 1, saying that even with inflation, the city can afford it.
The city council’s Community Development and Human Services Committee approved the funding increase yesterday, and its Finance and Executive Committee will consider it today. If approved, the full council could vote on the proposal as soon as July 5.
Mayor Andre Dickens’ office allocated $8 million—or about 1%—of the $790 million general fund budget for FY24 to the city’s affordable housing trust fund. And although the city council approved the mayor’s budget on June 20, Dozier’s legislation—cosigned by 13 of Atlanta’s 15 council members—aims to increase that to $11.5 million.
That’s what the funding should be, according to the city council legislation that formed the trust fund in 2021, Dozier said in an interview. That ordinance, written by City Councilmember Matt Westmoreland, called on the city to designate 1.5% of the general fund by FY24 for the trust, but Dickens’ office has said it didn’t have to hit that goal because of inflation.
Atlanta can afford putting the full $11.5 million into the affordable housing trust, because it has a $50 million budget surplus and an uncommitted fund balance of over $240 million, Dozier’s bill says.
“I recognize that the folks that handle the city’s money want to do everything in their power to ensure we eliminate risks,” Dozier told Atlanta Civic Circle. “However, it was hard for me to see the housing trust fund not meet the 1.5% threshold set out in Councilmember Westmoreland’s ordinance when, in the same breath, we are talking about having the highest reserves we’ve ever had in the city’s history and having an excellent bond rating and all these other financial benchmarks that we want as a city.”
“I’m a big believer in the city’s need to honor its commitments,” he added.
The Dickens administration almost didn’t fund the affordable housing trust last year, but criticism from housing advocates and local media, including ACC, spurred it to earmark $7 million—the prescribed 1% of the general fund for the trust’s initial year—in the city’s FY23 budget.
The news that the city was budgeting just $8 million for the fund in 2024 sparked similar blowback. That’s 15% more than the year prior, but $3.5 million less than Westmoreland’s 2021 ordinance directed.
Westmoreland told Atlanta Civic Circle in an interview that he expects the city council to pass Dozier’s proposal. “Five days into the fiscal year, we’ll have a fully funded trust fund,” he predicted.
“This is an unprecedented time for affordable housing resources,” Westmoreland added, referring to up to $300 million the city is anticipated to receive for housing, made up of as much as $200 million in philanthropic contributions and another $100 million in bond issuances, which the city council just approved.
But those funds will be used specifically for building and renovating housing that’s affordable to lower income Atlantans, while the trust fund has often been tapped for auxiliary initiatives, like property tax assistance and grants to nonprofits to provide legal aid in eviction cases or healthy food to food stamp recipients.
With Atlanta’s housing affordability crisis mounting, these kinds of efforts need every dollar they can get, Dozier said.
”The city has done a lot of work around a new Housing Opportunity Bond, [and] we have a significant amount of money we’re raising from our philanthropic community,” Dozier said at the June 27 committee meeting. “But those monies dry up, and we need a replenishing, regenerating fund to make sure we are fully committed to our affordable housing goals and priorities.”
“The best way to do that is to ensure that we’re fully funding the housing trust fund,” he said.
Dickens spokesperson Michael Smith told Atlanta Civic Circle in an emailed statement that the administration is currently focused on allocating the philanthropic dollars and bond funds the mayor helped secure for affordable housing projects.