Atlanta Beltline officials seek to make more trail housing affordable

Atlanta Beltline hopes to raise $7.5 million to encourage affordable housing development along its red-hot loop of trails and greenspaces.

The organization said Thursday it plans to float $50 million in new bonds, with 15 percent set aside to convince developers to include more affordable housing by offering builders tax credits.

The majority of the money — $40 million — will be used to address a list of capital projects that have yet to be determined and $2.5 million for economic development in the Beltline Tax Allocation District.

But it was the affordable housing spending that received the most attention at a Beltline meeting Thursday with Invest Atlanta. Atlanta Beltline is an arm of Invest Atlanta — the city’s economic development agency — which approved the Beltline’s $70 million fiscal 2017 budget Thursday.

Housing costs along the popular eastside trail have dramatically increased over the last five years, officials said. Developers, responding to surging interest in living along the greenspace, have built thousands of new apartments and condos to meet the demand.

Meanwhile, only about 560 units of affordable housing has been created in the Beltline Tad. Atlanta Beltline wants that number to increase to 5,600 along the 22-mile span by 2030.

“We’re kind of at an inflection point,” Paul Morris, Atlanta Beltline’s CEO and president, said of the rising cost of living along the Beltline. “The pace with which that affordability is declining is much faster than anything else happening in our economy.”

Invest Atlanta board member and Fulton County Commissioner Emma Darnell said she is already hearing concerns from residents. They fear that rising prices and interest in the Beltline could displace current residents and that those looking to relocate there will be priced out.

“It cannot be trails only,” she said.

The $7.5 million outlay will also allow Beltline officials to make affordability a priority in future Beltline neighborhoods while they are still within reach of most consumers, said Atlanta City Councilman and Invest Atlanta board member Andre Dickens.

“What is affordable today may not be affordable tomorrow,” he said. “Inman Park and Old Fourth Ward once upon a time were affordable.”

The next big boom could come along the westside trail and leaders are already devising ways to help homeowners stay put and help operators of multi-family housing to develop their property to attract potential renters or homeowners, said Invest Atlanta CEO Eloisa Klementich.

“It’s not one strategy, but a spectrum of strategies,” she said.