Every workday morning, thousands of hard working metro Atlantans commute into the center of the city to work. Often, it is to minimum wage jobs. These hard working individuals clean our high-rise office buildings, cook our “to go” meals, take our vital signs when we are sick and often help build the very offices and residences in which we live and work. Many of these individuals struggle from paycheck to pay check to make ends meet. The American dream of home ownership is not a dream for them … it is a fantasy and is simply not obtainable on a limited income. To have a vibrant, diverse city, the least we can do is make affordable housing a major priority in the city of Atlanta.
Community development is one of the biggest roles city governments play in developing vibrant downtowns. Providing affordable housing is and has been the cornerstone of community development. Yet, according to the Urban Institute, we must go beyond just providing affordable housing to the working poor. We must use the tools of tax breaks, tax allocation districts and other financial incentives to encourage inner city commercial and residential real development. This helps to offset the high cost of inner-city redevelopment. When we do this, in tandem with encouraging business development, we create new job opportunities in the core city, as well as affordable housing opportunities.
Conversely, when developers purchase valuable city assets, especially for Intown residential redevelopment, it is imperative, as a stipulation to the sale and any related financial incentives; they agree to designate a percentage of new construction units as “affordable housing.” Every mayor since Sam Massell has championed the cause of affordable housing. Especially when the developer is acquiring and receiving both a city asset and tax incentives. This was the case for Atlantic Station, Ponce City Market project, the Centennial Park area redevelopment and should be the same for any city owned site. The city can afford to promote affordable housing options for those whom it is an economic necessity. Affordable rental housing and affordable homes for purchase are essential elements for successful redevelopment of a city with 23% or higher poverty level residents and many working families who live pay check to pay check, Some years ago businessman Ron Terwillger and former Atlanta Housing Authority leader Renee Glover chaired the Affordable Housing Task Force. The report remains in the city’s files. This extensive report pushed the Council and me to offer $35 million in Affordable Housing Opportunity Bonds. Invest Atlanta as the Atlanta Development Authority had the expertise to manage the allocation of funding to qualified projects and the Council authorized funding to cover the bond financing. At the time we explored adopting inclusionary zoning legislation based on successful models from other cities as a mechanism to mandate mixed income housing development only to find limitations in state law. Perhaps it is time to revisit how the state could support inclusionary zoning legislation.
If we are to have a strong city, if we are to use all our assets to promote equitable and diverse community development that serves families and people at every socio economic level then as residents and taxpayers we must support the city’s efforts to do so even when it costs us money as taxpayers. The steady state of income and opportunity inequity for nearly 25% of Atlanta residents must be tackled unapologetically, consistently and holistically over the decades it might take to move the needle.
Read about New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans for affordable housing that he highlighted today in his State of the City Address.