Invest Atlanta adopts policy on affordable housing

Of the 10,000 new apartments that have been built in Atlanta over the last three years, city councilman Andre Dickens estimates that about 95 percent of them would be considered “luxury.”

“Outside of the reach of working folks like police officers, firefighters, teachers and bank tellers,” Dickens said. “That is why we need a policy that says we are not going to have all of that development without the opportunity for working class folks to have access to those amenities. Especially if those developments are getting government incentives.”

Late Thursday, in an unanimous vote, Atlanta's economic development authority passed a new affordable housing policy that would increase the availability of affordable housing throughout the city by requiring real estate developers receiving grants, incentives or subsidies from taxpayers or through an economic development authority operating in the city, to open up units for people making lower incomes.

The policy also closes a loophole that allowed some developers to bypass Atlanta and build through the Fulton County Development Authority, which has not enforced an affordable housing requirement for projects within the city of Atlanta.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Invest Atlanta — which can offer tax incentives for housing developers and major employers— announced that the Workforce Housing Policy aligns with a city ordinance that took effect on July 1. That policy required a set percentage of residential real estate units from any development receiving public funds to be leased to working households whose income falls below a certain percentage of the area median income.

“We recognize the urgent need to ensure working families have access to housing that is both affordable and high-quality,” Reed said. “I believe that it is only fair for any new housing development receiving public funding – whether through the city of Atlanta or through our partners at Fulton County – to offer 10 to 15 percent of its units to police officers, firefighters, teachers and hard-working families. Access to stable and affordable housing is essential for economic inclusion.”

Reed has said that affordable housing is a priority for his administration as he tries to avoid the affordable housing crunch seen in San Francisco and New York.

Under the policy, real estate developers have two options to provide affordable housing units based on a sliding scale: 15 percent of total residential units for household income levels below 80 percent area median income, which is $38,200; or 10 percent of total residential units for income levels below 60 percent area median income, which is $28,680.

In a recent study released by a Dallas agency that tracks apartment and housing trends, renters in the Atlanta area paid an average of $1,098 in rent for June. That was $14 more than May and $58 more than the $1,040 they paid in June 2015.

“Providing a range of housing options within Atlanta is vital to creating more vibrant neighborhoods with greater opportunities for people who live in them,” said Invest Atlanta President and CEO Eloisa Klementich. “Invest Atlanta is committed to enhancing our economic incentive programs to ensure they deliver the greatest impact possible. This new policy is an additional way to achieve this.”

Dickens, who wrote the legislation, said the policy also requires that the monthly rent for each affordable housing unit will be no more than 30 percent of the household’s monthly gross income.

While the policy only impacts developments that get incentives, Dickens said he will move toward creating a blanket citywide policy.

“We are heading toward mandatory inclusionary zoning,” said Dickens, who is also on the Invest Atlanta board. “We are halfway there.”

Staff writer J. Scott Trubey contributed to this article.