Westside’s affordable housing push picks up steam

An affordable housing structure is under construction, located at 507 English Avenue NW, in Atlanta's English Avenue community, Wednesday, August 26, 2020. The Westside Future Fund is adding affordable houses in the English Avenue community. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
An affordable housing structure is under construction, located at 507 English Avenue NW, in Atlanta's English Avenue community, Wednesday, August 26, 2020. The Westside Future Fund is adding affordable houses in the English Avenue community. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Public-private group plans to complete 91 homes and apartments by summer 2021

A public-private partnership plans to accelerate construction this fall of dozens of new affordable homes to rent or buy on Atlanta’s Westside as community leaders try to deliver on their promise to rebuild the area.

The Westside Future Fund is targeting vacant lots and blighted properties in the neighborhoods of Vine City, English Avenue, Ashview Heights and Just Us, all located in the shadow of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In exchange for public dollars to support the three-year-old stadium, business and community leaders promised to help the struggling neighborhoods.

The fund has completed six affordable homes in the low-income area since starting the program in 2018, and another 144 affordable apartments in multiple buildings.

But its pace will quicken this fall. The fund and its partners are actively working on 17 detached homes and 74 apartments located in several buildings. The group hopes that most will be occupied by June. It has so far spent about $80 million to buy real estate and on construction, using both public money and private donations.

The homes are aimed at residents whose income is no more than 60% of the average median income for the area, with some units designed for families at even-lower income levels. The average median income for the entire metro Atlanta this year is $82,700 for a family of four.

The work stands in contrast to much of the residential development in metro Atlanta, especially on the Westside and near the Beltline. New construction typically targets middle and upper-income residents, as the region’s population grew by 63,000 people in the 12-month period ending in April, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.

The supply of affordable housing has not kept pace. Metro Atlanta has a shortage of 24,267 homes for households at 30% of the average median income or less, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Statewide, Georgia has a shortage of about 204,000 rental homes for families whose income falls below the current poverty level of $18,850, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The Westside Future Fund’s largest corporate investors are Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola, Chick-Fil-A, Cox Enterprises, Home Depot and Truist Financial. Cox owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Its public-sector partners for the project, called Home on the Westside, are Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Invest Atlanta and the Atlanta Housing Authority.

The two primary tenants of Mercedes-Benz Stadium are the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, both owned by Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank. Blank’s foundation supports Westside affordable-housing initiatives.

An affordable housing structure is under construction, located at 395 James P. Brawley Drive NW, in Atlanta's English Avenue community, Wednesday, August 26, 2020. The Westside Future Fund is adding affordable houses on Atlanta's Westside. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
An affordable housing structure is under construction, located at 395 James P. Brawley Drive NW, in Atlanta's English Avenue community, Wednesday, August 26, 2020. The Westside Future Fund is adding affordable houses on Atlanta's Westside. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

More work is in the pipeline after the current construction phase is completed, as the fund owns a total of 377 properties, both detached homes and apartments. The fund hopes to produce 800 housing units by 2025, both for rental and purchase, offered at 60% of the average median income or less.

The fund has partnered with the Atlanta Housing Authority’s voucher program to maintain its new housing at affordable levels.

The new housing will be a combination of rental units and homes for sale and will be offered to residents of mixed income levels. Advocates hope there will be strong purchase demand since high home ownership rates can stabilize a community, said John Ahmann, the fund’s CEO.

In stable neighborhoods, it’s typical for a majority of residents to own their own homes, he said. But in these neighborhoods, the home ownership rate is around 8%.

“We’d love to have people move in who work at the Atlanta University Center or in the local schools,” he said. “We’d love to have people come back who graduated from Booker T. Washington High School.”

Bottoms, in a statement, said the project “shows what we can do when public and private partners collaborate on sustainable change.” She campaigned on a goal of creating a $1 billion fund for affordable housing.

The fund isn’t the only group trying to bolster the supply of affordable homes in these neighborhoods. Quest Communities and OaksATL are both active developers of affordable housing on the Westside.

The area desperately needs more affordable housing and the fund’s strategy of replacing vacant and blighted properties with new construction is an effective tool, said Althea Broughton, an attorney at Arnall Golden Gregory who represents the fund on some matters though nothing directly tied to this project.

“We should have an all-hands-on-deck approach to this issue,” said Broughton, who works on affordable-housing developments throughout the Southeast. “There’s no one-size-fits-all methodology and no silver bullet.”

The fund has raised $25 million for the project and hopes to raise another $25 million, Ahmann said. The current project is focused exclusively on building homes and not other assets like community centers or commercial buildings, he said.

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