The city of Atlanta owns hundreds of acres of vacant land that could one day be developed with affordable housing. But what about the public land that’s already in use?
The city has partnered with national consultancy Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) for an audit of all of Atlanta’s publicly owned real estate assets. The project’s findings could spur a new city effort to reappropriate underutilized public works properties, and use them to create more housing for low-income residents.
Joshua Humphries, Mayor Andre Dickens’ chief housing advisor, expects the findings of the “public land activation study” to free up as much as 45 acres of city-owned land for affordable housing development.
To do that, he told Atlanta Civic Circle, the city could relocate storage space for public works facilities to make way for construction crews.
“Think of where we store the trash cans, or where the salt warehouse is for the three times a decade that it snows,” Humphries said. “We need those things, but we don’t necessarily need them there.”
The idea, which could become an actionable plan early next year, is inspired by similar programs in cities like Denver and Washington, D.C., that have consolidated their facilities sites.
“For them, it was really about efficiency and less about public land development,” Humphries said. “That’s great, and we want to have good city systems and good city services, too, but we really want to [utilize] the land—and this helps us free that up.”
Through its partnership with GFOA, the city has identified all the land it uses for facilities management—much of it along the Beltline—but officials have not yet homed in on sites that could be repurposed.
“[But] the majority we are focused on are close to the Beltline,” Humphries said.
Once the city has pinpointed properties ripe for housing development, he continued, they’ll be added to the city’s already robust development pipeline.
Atlanta’s Affordable Housing Strike Force—the team Dickens assembled in April 2022 to coordinate the housing efforts of the city’s many different agencies—is now working to build out 40 separate parcels across town with affordable units.
It could take years before any of the public works sites are cleared for redevelopment. But when they’re ready, the city’s Urban Development Corporation, a nonprofit created to produce mixed-use, mixed-income developments, will take over.