Atlanta Housing’s new plan to redevelop the former Bowen Homes public housing site will create something from nothing, bringing 2,000 new residences to 74 vacant acres on the Westside that have sprouted nothing but weeds since the complex was razed in 2009.

But that doesn’t mean the redevelopment project won’t pose challenges for the surrounding community. As the long-dormant property starts to deliver mixed-income housing over the next few years, Westside neighborhoods will feel the same impact that massive investments along the Beltline and elsewhere have made across the city, raising property values and, subsequently, the cost of living. 

AH tapped the joint venture of The Benoit Group and McCormack Baron Salazar to spearhead the city-owned site’s rebirth last year, and construction is expected to begin in 2024. 

Westside Future Fund CEO John Ahmann told Atlanta Civic Circle that it will be crucial for the housing authority and its development team to pay close attention to the types of housing they build to temper the gentrifying effects the project could have.

The Bowen Homes redevelopment won’t directly displace anyone, he said, “but what is also true is that as investment increases in that area, all the land holdings around there become more valuable.”

What might that mean? “Landlords may think about charging higher rents,” Ahmann said. “[The project] has a ripple effect.”

Of the 2,000 housing units planned for the site—mostly rentals—825 will be priced as affordable for households earning up to 80% of the area median income (AMI), or $77,120 for a family of four. The rest will be market rate.  

Ahmann said adding that many units for middle- and lower-income Atlantans “unequivocally advances us in terms of having more high-quality affordable units in our city.”

“But there is still a need out there, especially as you go further down on the AMI tree,” he added.

(Credit: Atlanta Housing)

AH has not yet revealed the pricing breakdown for units billed as affordable at “up to” 80% AMI, which covers a broad range of incomes. However, what Atlanta critically needs are units priced for people earning under 50% AMI—or $48,200 for a four-person family—local housing experts say.

“The city of Atlanta has been losing about 1,000 units a year that rent for less than $1,000 over the past several years, despite ongoing development, as previously affordable apartments have increased rents,” said Natallie Keiser, the executive director of the nonprofit HouseATL.

“Our gap in affordable supply is the greatest for people at the lowest incomes,” she said, adding, “The redevelopment of the 74-acre Bowen Homes site presents a tremendous opportunity to address our affordable housing gap.”

AH last week announced it had secured a highly competitive $40 million Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for construction and infrastructure improvements to the Bowen Homes site. The funding also covers the adjacent Carey Park neighborhood, part of Almond Park, and a corridor along the Donald Lee Hollowell and James Jackson Parkways. 

That assistance could help AH and its development team subsidize cheaper housing units.

Kaiser said using public land to build housing is not sufficient to finance units affordable at 50% AMI or less, because of the high costs of labor and construction materials. That said, she added, “Public land is a critical tool for reducing development costs and should be leveraged to produce as much deeply affordable housing as possible.”

“Public land is not sufficient subsidy for producing deeply affordable housing in our current high cost environment, but it can be used to attract additional subsidy, as we have seen occur with Atlanta Housing’s Choice Neighborhoods federal grant,” she explained.

“The Atlanta community needs to support and encourage Atlanta Housing to maximize this opportunity,” she added.

The Benoit Group and McCormack Baron Salazer’s initial proposal for the city’s Bowen Homes property called for just 502 apartments priced below market rent—or just 27% of the total units. After Atlanta City Councilmember Dustin Hillis, who represents the project’s district, and other council officials pushed back, the developers in January increased the affordable housing component to 41% of the 2,000 units.

Hillis is optimistic the developers can tweak the blueprints before shovels hit the dirt to ensure that a substantial portion of the 825 units serves even the city’s lowest-income people.

“I was glad to see that, after my [city council] colleagues and I expressed concerns late last year, AH increased the number of affordable units for the Bowen rebuild,” he told Atlanta Civic Circle in an email. “With the $40 million grant received from HUD for this monumental project … I am further hopeful we can work alongside AH’s leadership team and board to seek further gains with the affordability mix.”

Hillis added that the city’s affordable housing trust fund and the recently passed $100 million in housing opportunity bonds “should be employed at Bowen to both increase the number of rental units at various AMI levels, as well as help realize homeownership for a higher number of residents.”

The first phase of Bowen Homes’ redevelopment for 151 new apartments will break ground in late 2024 and be ready for occupancy at the end of 2026, according to AH spokesperson LaConia Dean.


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