Expert pans Bottoms’ housing pledge as pick to run AHA bows out

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Thursday unveiled a $60 million program to advance her $1 billion pledge for affordable housing.

But before the day was done, a top Georgia housing expert panned the announcement as "window-dressing," and the man selected to become the next leader of the city's housing agency reversed course and said he's staying in Cincinnati.

At a 10 a.m. press conference outside a rundown apartment complex along Metropolitan Parkway, Bottoms announced the $60 million commitment from the Atlanta Housing Authority, which she said represented the largest contribution yet to her 10-figure housing goal.

The money, she said, will create and preserve affordable units in three ways.

The largest portion will help finance new affordable units and renovate existing apartments. Some funds will boost a program to help low-income homeowners renovate their houses. Another portion will finance “infill” projects of fewer than 100 units.

“What it means is regular working people can still afford to live in the city of Atlanta,” Bottoms said. “This is such a significant infusion of money and it gets us close to 20 percent of our goal of $1 billion.”

But in response to reporters’ questions, officials acknowledged the money is part of federal funding AHA receives each year, not new money.

On the campaign trail in late 2017, Bottoms promised "to raise and commit" $1 billion for affordable housing — with half coming from the private sector. Bottoms said Thursday the city was nearing $200 million so far.

But Dan Immergluck, a Georgia State University professor and housing expert, said Bottoms is counting dollars that the city already received as new money. A mayor's office news release described the AHA money as "new funding."

“I’m not convinced there’s anything going on that wasn’t going on before she was elected at this point,” he said.

Housing affordability emerged as a political issue in recent years as Atlanta rents soared, wages stagnated and most new development targeted luxury renters.

During her state of the city address last month, Bottoms said the city had committed more than $100 million in public investment in affordable housing since she took office in January 2018. The sources included funds from existing tax allocation districts, tax breaks to encourage workforce housing in new projects and money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

But Immergluck said the city needs to identify hundreds of millions in local funds to make her $1 billion pledge a reality.

“The implication was when you are running for mayor and you’re talking about half-a-billion dollars you’re talking about city public money,” Immergluck said. “It’s not like HUD is spending more money on housing right now.”

Immergluck credited Bottoms with helping create an affordable housing task force, which Immergluck has addressed, and for the appointment of longtime city planning official Terri Lee to coordinate the city's various housing efforts.

But any high-impact programs will require new sources tax revenue, Immergluck said

New development of affordable housing takes years, he said, and the city could help more low-income renters squeezed by high housing costs by creating a local voucher program.

Bottoms’ office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Thursday, Gregory Johnson, AHA's pick to be its new leader said he would remain the leader of Cincinnati's housing agency. An AHA statement said the agency learned of Johnson's decision from reports in Cincinnati media.

AHA offered Johnson the job last month and Johnson recently offered his resignation from the Cincinnati agency before rescinding it Thursday. No reason was given for Johnson’s reversal.

Executive turnover and litigation sidelined AHA from development in recent years, and Johnson's decision once again left the agency in the lurch.

AHA Chairman Dr. Christopher Edwards said Joy Fitzgerald, a former AHA CEO, will lead the agency until a new permanent chief executive is named.