Atlanta leaders ponder $100 million bond for affordable housing

Atlanta City Councilman Matt Westmoreland said acquiring land should be a significant part of any affordable housing conversation in Atlanta. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

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Atlanta City Councilman Matt Westmoreland said acquiring land should be a significant part of any affordable housing conversation in Atlanta. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Atlanta City Council members will take the next two weeks to hammer out how the city will spend $100 million sought by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to fund affordable housing initiatives.

The mayor's Feb. 17 executive order to issue a bond would increase the Housing Opportunity Bond Fund, and is part of Bottoms' $1 billion affordable housing plan.

Legislation to issue the bond was discussed, but not voted on in the city's community development and human services committee meeting Tuesday, but will be discussed again at the committee's March 10 meeting, Councilman Matt Westmoreland said.

A few ideas the council may consider are funding for multifamily loans; down payment assistance to help people purchase homes; and money for owner-occupied home rehabilitation efforts. But Westmoreland said acquiring land should be a significant part of any affordable housing conversation.

“We need to be really focused on making sure that we’re assembling the land that will be needed, that the city would then control forever to build affordable housing for our residents in the years ahead,” Westmoreland said.

Last year, Bottoms announced a robust $1 billion affordable housing plan that included using money from the Housing Opportunity Bond to help the city acquire land for affordable housing.

In Georgia, there is a shortage of about 204,000 rental homes for families whose income falls at or below the poverty line, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Bottoms’ executive order issuing the bond came nearly 18 months after HouseATL, a nonprofit comprised of business, nonprofit, and city leaders, suggested Bottoms issue $250 million in bonds, with those dollars distributed over a period of a few years.

The $100 million bond will be the first time the city takes on debt for Bottoms’ affordable housing program, a spokesman said. The city is still looking into public funding options for affordable housing.

City officials did not say if they’ll seek an additional $150 million in bonds to mirror the HouseATL recommendation.

“In my mind, the $100 million is an important initial step in getting to that goal,” Westmoreland said.

Sarah Kirsch, executive director for the Urban Land Institute, said she hopes the city will consider the additional $150 million but knows there have been other spending priorities in Atlanta, such as increasing the pay for Atlanta firefighters. She said city leaders need to find a dedicated funding source for affordable housing.

“We can’t keep doing housing opportunity bonds,” said Kirsch, who sat on the HouseATL committee. “Affordable housing would work if we had an annual funding source.”

Kirsch also agreed the city needed to secure more land to build affordable units.

“We have significant public land that we can mobilize for production,” she said. “The key will be making sure that land is in all parts of the city.”

Kyle Wingfield, president and CEO of Georgia Public Policy Foundation, said there are questions as to how the bonds will be repaid.

“There’s a lot we don’t know specifically how the funds are going to be spent and how they bonds would be repaid,” Wingfield said. “What are the fund sources? Those are two huge questions that I think the city has to have answers to.”

Wingfield also questioned if the city was getting a return on its investment. The city has already spent $252 million in public funds on more than 3,500 affordable units.

“They’ve spent almost $72,000 per unit which seems like a really high number when you think about the cost of building a unit,” Wingfield said. On top of that, Wingfield said typically, the funding gap is about 10% of the cost of the project.

“If the size of the gap is more than 10 percent of the cost of the project, you’re either over funding the gap or funding projects that are too expensive.”

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