Beltline CEO: I put affordable housing first, but deserve a 'C' for effort

The head of the agency in charge of building Atlanta's Beltline gave himself a "C" for the effort he put into building the project's mandated affordable housing Wednesday, but stressed that he's still the right person for the job.

Paul Morris is president and CEO of Atlanta Beltline Inc.

Criticism of Atlanta Beltline Inc. President and CEO Paul Morris grew after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published in July an investigation on the Beltline's affordable housing failures.  The agency had funded only a fraction of the 5,600 affordable units that City Council required be built along the planned 22-mile ribbon of trails, parks and transit.

Mayor Kasim Reed said that the project's leader should be "committed to affordability as a first thought and not an after-thought," according to a story in the Saporta Report. He did not defend Morris when asked whether he would make changes at the agency.

On Wednesday, Morris told reporters outside a Beltline Inc. board meeting that he didn't see the mayor's words as a threat.

"I've been that leader," Morris said. "I think that's what he (Reed) wants everyone to hear. That that (affordable housing) is the priority. "

Morris argued that the Great Recession stymied Beltline Inc.'s ability to create more inexpensive homes.

"So with that qualifier, I would say in terms of effort, I'd give us a C. In terms of total units for where we need to be by the end of the program, we're probably at a D," Morris said.

But the AJC investigation showed that Beltline Inc. bears much of the blame for its troubles. Under Morris' watch, it decreased affordable housing spending as rising prices pushed the city into a crisis; created homes that would be affordable for only a short period; and passed up on millions in funding for these homes. That funding would have been enough to double the project's affordable housing budget.

Since the story ran, Beltline Inc. announced that it has struck an agreement with the Atlanta Housing Authority to make AHA a development partner to build mixed-income housing on Beltline property.

Morris said during Wednesday's meeting that Beltline Inc. is also considering creating a fund to prevent residents and small businesses from being displaced from the 45 neighborhoods along the Beltline's path.

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