Politics

Atlanta Passes Ordinance For More Affordable Housing

Friendship Tower is one of a few affordable housing options in downtown Atlanta. A new ordinance requires developers receiving public funds to set aside 10 to 15 percent of units as affordable housing.
Friendship Tower is one of a few affordable housing options in downtown Atlanta. A new ordinance requires developers receiving public funds to set aside 10 to 15 percent of units as affordable housing.
Credit Stephanie M. Lennox / Stephanie M. Lennox
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Developers building multi-family homes in the city of Atlanta who receive public funds will now have to set aside up to 15 percent of their units for affordable housing.

Atlanta City Council passed an ordinance for more affordable housing in the city Monday night. The resolution was introduced by Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens.

Invest Atlanta currently requires developers to whom it grants tax breaks to set aside 10 percent of total units for individuals who make 80 percent of the area median income.

The ordinance that passed Monday night requires any developer receiving subsidies from a development authority to set aside 15 percent of units for individuals who make 80 percent of the area median income or 10 percent of units for lower-income residents — those who make 60 percent of the area median income.

In Fulton County, the median family income is about $67,500, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Currently, Fulton County and DeKalb County development authorities don’t have a written requirement for developers receiving public subsidy to provide a percentage of affordable units,” Dickens said. “I want balanced growth and equity across the city particularly if public funds are used.”

Officials with Fulton County’s development authority have said they were waiting on the Atlanta City Council to pass an affordability law. 

If a developer doesn’t comply, the city will refuse to issue a certificate of occupancy for the building. The affordable housing units must also be similar in construction and appearance to the rest of the building.

“Housing is about people,” Dickens said. “We want diverse housing options for our diverse workforce.”

Deeper Affordability

As part of the new rules, rent for these new units will be capped at 30 percent of the tenant’s monthly gross income.

Councilman Dickens said he introduced the ordinance looking for a “deeper level of affordability.”

The Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) said it may be involved in project-based rental assistance if developers apply and said it expects families accepted into its tenant-based Housing Choice Voucher Program, previously known as Section 8, could become residents of any new properties built with affordable housing units in them.

“Although the AHA provides housing rental assistance to households earning up to 80 percent of the area median income, 95 percent of households served by AHA have household incomes at or below 50 percent of AMI [area median income],” said Jeff Dickerson.

He said 74 percent of households the AHA serves are extremely low-income, making less than 30 percent of the area median income.

Luxury Apartments

John O’Callaghan, president of the housing advocacy group Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, said many developers building residences in the city of Atlanta would previously seek out tax incentives from Fulton or DeKalb County’s development authorities.

That’s because they did not require developers to set aside units for affordable housing. O’Callaghan said this new ordinance does close that loophole, but he wishes there was more deliberate discussion.

“If the city is providing tax incentives for developers, I wish we had not moved so quickly and could deliberate and do the math and look at how much of an incentive is the city of Atlanta [through development authorities] providing these developers of largely luxury apartments and then based on that how much could we ask for in return,” O’Callaghan said. “I’m concerned that even though they have the option of serving 60 percent or below of area median income families, they are not required to.”

O’Callaghan said most of the need in the city of Atlanta for rental units is from residents who make 60 percent or below the area median income.

He said he’s hopeful council members will continue to do more for lower-income residents of the city who are being affected by the luxury apartment housing boom in the city.

“I don’t think anyone is arguing this meets the housing needs for the city of Atlanta. Time is of the essence,” O’Callaghan said. “I thought this was a unique opportunity to do more.

“I’m also concerned the large number of luxury apartments being built across the city are raising the prices of the median apartment in the city, so we are seeing prices for apartments not only go up in this luxury market, but for middle-income and lower-income Atlantans. By providing incentives for developers of luxury housing that are renting at very high prices, I worry that we are lifting rental prices across the city.”

The ordinance passed 14-1. Councilman Howard Shook was the one dissenting vote.