Affordable housing plan headed for Atlanta city council

A more than yearlong effort to inject an affordable housing strategy into the city of Atlanta’s zoning code could move forward later this year.

In a meeting Thursday of the Invest Atlanta board, Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens said the effort to boost the city’s supply of workforce housing is likely to go before Council by mid-summer.

Home affordability is a priority of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration. Reed has said he wants to avoid the affordable housing crunch seen in cities like San Francisco and New York.

The program, Dickens said, would be similar to requirements in communities such as Charleston, Boston, Seattle and Montgomery County, Md., and would set a minimum number of affordable units in denser market-rate projects.

Details are still in flux, but it would likely involve incentives to include housing units for people making 60 percent to 100 percent of the area’s median income in any apartment or condo project of 10 or more units, he said.

Legislation would require city council approval.

Dickens said city leaders are trying to perform a “delicate balance” of crafting legislation to combat a shrinking supply of housing affordable for teachers, police officers and service workers. He said a teacher or police officer in Buckhead, for instance, should be able to find a place to live near her work.

It’s also part of a strategy to help keep residents from being displaced by rising rents and property values.

Affordable housing groups, planners and developers have been included in work on the proposal, he said.

Dickens said the plan will go before neighborhood planning units for consultation and advisory votes. Those groups are key players in the city’s zoning process.

Affordability efforts have been controversial in some cities, but they are not uncommon. Some cities have policies that cover the entire jurisdiction while others use special provisions for designated areas, Dickens said.

“It’s going to be a landmark piece of legislation,” he said.

The city has down payment assistance programs and other ventures to help lower-income residents. Invest Atlanta also offers tax breaks to developers in exchange for setting aside units for residents making 80 percent of the area’s median income.

In his recent State of the City address, Reed called upon Fulton County to require affordable units when its development authority grants tax breaks to developers.

The proposed city policy would go further and actually create a zoning code to encourage affordability throughout the city.

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