Inside City Hall: Why Dickens changed course on new affordable housing funds

Mayor Andre Dickens speaks at the ribbon cutting ceremony for The Villages of East Lake grand reopening on Monday, May 9, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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Mayor Andre Dickens speaks at the ribbon cutting ceremony for The Villages of East Lake grand reopening on Monday, May 9, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

A weekly roundup of the most important things you need to know about Atlanta City Hall

The last seven days have been a whirlwind week for Atlanta City Hall news, but nothing took as many twists and turns as Mayor Andre Dickens’ decision to dedicated $7 million in his proposed budget to the city’s affordable housing, after initially leaving it out.

Now, the big question is: What does Dickens plan to change in the budget to make room for the housing allocation?

Last week earned Dickens criticism, and then some praise, from housing advocates who have pushed for the city to dedicate new city revenue every year to affordable housing.

That’s the purpose of the trust fund, which was approved by the City Council last year with Dickens as a cosponsor. (The fund dedicates a portion of the city’s general fund budget to affordable housing efforts — 1% for the first year, and eventually increasing to 2%.)

But when Dickens released his draft budget, the trust fund wasn’t included. That’s because of language in the law that doesn’t make the allocation mandatory if inflation is too high.

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Mayor Andre Dickens chats with students from Drew Charter School in Atlanta during the grand reopening ceremony of The Villages of Eastlake on Monday, May 9, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Mayor Andre Dickens chats with students from Drew Charter School in Atlanta during the grand reopening ceremony of The Villages of Eastlake on Monday, May 9, 2022.  (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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Mayor Andre Dickens chats with students from Drew Charter School in Atlanta during the grand reopening ceremony of The Villages of Eastlake on Monday, May 9, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

WABE published a story on Wednesday pointing out the missing funds; we began asking questions, too, after hearing behind the scenes that some folks both inside and outside of City Hall weren’t happy with the trust fund being left out.

The administration initially defended the decision, but Dickens scheduled a call with reporters on Thursday to announce that after hearing “loud and clear” from housing advocates, he decided to add the $7.3 million trust fund into his draft budget. Many of those who were initially critical said they appreciated that the mayor was willing to listen and change course.

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Mayor Andre Dickens (right) speaks with ATLDOT Commissioner Josh Rowan. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Mayor Andre Dickens (right) speaks with ATLDOT Commissioner Josh Rowan. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

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Mayor Andre Dickens (right) speaks with ATLDOT Commissioner Josh Rowan. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Why is Atlanta Department of Transportation Commissioner Josh Rowan leaving his post? That’s a question we struggled to get firm answers to last week. We got a copy of his resignation letter in which Rowan, the first leader of the new city department, said the “timing is ideal” to move on, though he didn’t go into specifics.

Asked about the reason behind the departure, the mayor told us he didn’t want to speak for Rowan, who walked away when one of your City Hall insiders approached him outside a City Council transportation committee meeting on Wednesday.

The notice of Rowan’s resignation, effective July 1, comes less than two weeks after a deputy commissioner in his department was fired, and as residents go to the polls and vote on whether to approve $750 million in infrastructure and transportation improvements.

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Here’s another question: Where’s the Beltline going to go in northwest Atlanta? The agency revealed its preferred choice Thursday night — the first time the Beltline has had to pick a route that wasn’t predetermined by a former rail line.

Here’s the top pick for getting from the Westside Trail to the Northside Trail:

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This path, outlined in dark blue, is the top-ranked route for the Beltline's Northwest Trail.

Credit: Courtesy/Atlanta Beltline

This path, outlined in dark blue, is the top-ranked route for the Beltline's Northwest Trail.

Credit: Courtesy/Atlanta Beltline

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This path, outlined in dark blue, is the top-ranked route for the Beltline's Northwest Trail.

Credit: Courtesy/Atlanta Beltline

Credit: Courtesy/Atlanta Beltline

There was no choice provided yet for the more controversial stretch the Beltline is studying in Buckhead, which will run east of the Bobby Jones Golf Course.

We have a story that gives you a behind-the-scenes at the mixed feedback the Beltline received from Buckhead residents and neighborhood organizations as experts studied three possible routes.

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Atlanta wants to get out of the lighting business. The council is set to vote on an measure Monday to sell the city’s over 9,000 streetlights to Georgia Power for $2 million, with the company handling maintenance and operation of the lights for the city.

The decision to pursue the sale followed an audit that found the city manages its streetlights in a haphazard way, with not enough crews to sufficiently maintain and repair them. Auditors said selling the lights to Georgia Power could increase costs, but improve service.

If you have any feedback, story ideas, tips or insider info related on City Hall, email us at wilborn.nobles@ajc.com and jdapelouto@ajc.com. We’re also on Twitter, @jdcapelouto and @WilNobles.

WILBORN NOBLES III

Wilborn P. Nobles III covers the Atlanta mayor's policies for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Wil (not "Willie" or "William") previously covered Baltimore County government at The Baltimore Sun, but he never finished "The Wire." He also covered education for the Times-Picayune in his hometown of New Orleans, so he tries to avoid discussions about football. Wil used to play tuba for his high school marching band, but he eventually put down his horn to intern at The Washington Post. The Louisiana State University graduate enjoys gardening, comedy, and music.

Wilborn.Nobles@ajc.com

J.D. CAPELOUTO

J.D. Capelouto is a local news reporter covering City Hall and all things intown Atlanta for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His work focuses the City Council, neighborhood issues, public safety, housing and transportation. J.D. was born and raised in Atlanta and has lived in the city all his life, except for four years at Boston University, where he studied journalism and learned how to dress for cold weather. He’s been with the AJC since 2018, and has previously written for The Boston Globe and the Thomson Reuters Foundation. When he’s not reporting or scrolling through Twitter, J.D. enjoys pop culture podcasts, “Survivor” and visiting various pools around Atlanta.

Joseph.Capelouto@ajc.com