Atlanta’s mayoral candidates met head-to-head Monday night at the first forum since they qualified for the Nov. 30 runoff election.
City Councilman Andre Dickens and City Council President Felicia Moore polished their platform ideas in the context of a race that’s dwindled from 14 candidates to two. The councilmembers agreed with the need for citywide unity and policing reforms, but they sought out opportunities to illustrate the differences between them.
Dickens, for instance, said Atlanta needs to prepare “for a new revolution” that features more affordable housing and the removal of confederate symbols. Moore said they need to uphold the “historical preservation” of its diverse, legacy neighborhoods amid the development projects in Atlanta.
But for the most part, the candidates focused on affordable housing, evictions, single family zoning and gentrification. The councilmembers agreed that more federal funding would go a long way to address some of Atlanta’s housing issues.
Dickens, who pointed out his experience as a renter, landlord and homeowner, said housing should be available for residents with incomes around $38-to-$40,000. He said he wants to build or preserve 20,000 units in eight years if elected.
He also promised to freeze property taxes for senior citizens to ensure legacy residents and seniors are not “taxed out of their homes.” He then mentioned the need for Atlanta to have “an office that’s related to anti displacement” for those residents.
“It’s OK to build these buildings in our communities, but I want to know how many of us will be allowed in those buildings,” said Dickens in reference to “community benefits agreements related to large scale projects.”
Moore, a real estate agent, said state law prohibits Atlanta from doing rent control, so she said they need to create incentives for developers to build “multi-unit properties.” She said Atlanta can use vacant city-owned property to build more affordable housing, and she vowed to ensure the Atlanta Housing Authority is helping the people “on the lower income strata” who want to live in the city.
She also wants the Fulton County/City of Atlanta Land Bank Authority to make their housing properties more affordable. Moore then mentioned the need to have housing available for people who can’t buy a first-time home, as well as people who get evicted to give them time to get on their feet.
Likewise, Moore said Atlanta needs to bolster its efforts to prevent evictions by removing “the bureaucratic red tape” and obtaining more federal funds. She also wants to provide more legal assistance and counseling to residents, especially once the eviction moratorium expires.
The candidates also addressed the gap between education and employment among its residents.
Dickens, who wants to create the city’s first Department of Labor, said Atlanta needs to focus on its “untapped talent” by training people for technology jobs, similar to the way he co-founded a career program at the TechBridge nonprofit to teach people skills for IT jobs.
He vowed to hire a cabinet-level “chief education officer” with their own staff to serve as a liaison between City Hall and the school system to bolster the city’s after school programs. He also promised to “get rid of the digital divide” in Atlanta.
Moore said she wants to expand her “Moore Girls in STEM” initiative citywide to expose more children to science, technology, engineering and math. She also wants the city to focus on early childhood education in service as “a backup and a reinforcement” for the school system.
She envisioned a system where after school, school buses will take children to a recreation center where nonprofit partners can help students with homework, free meals, extracurriculars, or job opportunities. She said those same buses can take those children home later in the evening.
“We got to keep our eyes and arms around our kids. If we don’t, we’ll find them drifting off doing other things,” Moore said.
The forum lasted for nearly two hours and was hosted by several organizations: the League of Women Voters Atlanta-Fulton County; ACLU of Georgia; Atlanta Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.; Eta Lambda Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity; New Leaders Council Atlanta; Pi Alpha Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and the Urban League of Greater Atlanta.