Atlanta Affordable Housing Law Gaining Ground In Other Cities

**FOR USE AS DESIRED**The Atlanta skyline is shown, Monday, March 31, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Mike Stewart / Associated Press

A new Atlanta law that tracks changes to affordable housing may be catching on nationally.

New Orleans and Pittsburgh are among the cities looking at adopting an ordinance similar to one that was first passed in Atlanta last fall. It requires city officials to quantify how many low-cost housing units would be lost or gained with a change in municipal policy.

Housing advocate Matthew Charles Cardinale said those reports, referred to as affordable housing impact statements, can help influence future city planning, and they can also be a resource for the public.

“It becomes a tool for advocates,” Cardinale said, “and people who want to know what the city is doing or not doing.”

Cardinale helped draft Atlanta’s legislation. He has since started a nonprofit, called State and Municipal Action for Results Today / Agenda for Legislative Empowerment and Collaboration, or SMART ALEC, to promote the law in other cities.

Some housing experts, though, are more skeptical of the legislation.

“It seems to me like a little bit of a feel-good measure,” said Alex Karner, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of City and Regional Planning.

Karner said there isn’t evidence that the ordinance does anything to keep housing affordable in cities. He also said it can be difficult to estimate the real long-term effects of policy changes on housing.

Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens, who supported the law, said it’s just the start of a much bigger conversation on affordable housing in the city.

“Atlanta may not have been a model city before,” Dickens said. “But I think that the future for Atlanta’s voice in affordable housing is growing.”

In the past, other cities like San Diego and Austin, Texas, have required some kind of impact statement for changes to affordable housing, but Atlanta’s is the first standalone law requiring officials to estimate the actual number of units that would be affected.

Atlanta’s law went into effect this past July. The City Council will soon review some of its first impact statements.