Kasim Reed calls for Fulton to address affordable housing problem

Mayor Kasim Reed called on Fulton County officials to do more to address a growing affordable housing problem in Atlanta.

In Thursday’s annual State of the City speech, during which he discussed topics ranging from crime to wage equity, Reed urged Fulton County to follow the city’s lead and require developers seeking taxpayer subsidies for residential projects to include affordable housing in their plans.

Speaking to reporters following the event, Reed was even more pointed, criticizing the Development Authority of Fulton County for using tax incentives for luxury apartments in communities like Buckhead — a market that he says doesn’t need the assistance.

The mayor questioned the use of “city of Atlanta taxpayer money, to subsidize a deal that doesn’t allow one single ordinary person to live in a building that they helped finance. Fulton County has been doing this and it needs to come to a stop.”

Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development agency, has recently required some developers seeking tax incentives to set aside 10 percent of units for low to moderate income renters. Still the Atlanta City Council hasn’t adopted a formal policy.

Should that happen, development authority executive director Al Nash said, the authority would be required to follow it when operating in city limits.

“I think we all believe that workforce (housing) and affordability are important,” he said. “We’ve said all along that we would adhere to whatever the elected body has approved, whatever that might be.”

Nash said he understands Reed’s “passion” and would like to sit down with Atlanta officials to discuss the issue.

Fulton Chairman John Eaves said that, while the county commission can’t require the development authority to implement a broad policy, he also is willing to work with the city and authority on tackling affordability.

“I agree whole-heartedly that something needs to be done. And I’m willing to be a partner and work with my commission so that the county can be a partner with city of Atlanta,” he said. “We are open to receiving a policy adopted by the city.”

Affordable housing has become a hot topic in recent years as rental prices have risen while wage growth has lagged. An October 2015 report by Georgia Tech’s Dan Immergluck, a professor in the School of City and Regional Planning, found that 95 percent of rental units built between 2012 and 2014 were luxury apartments. The same report finds a decline in affordable, low-cost units.

Immergluck praised the mayor for calling on Fulton to address the affordability issue, but noted “even the 10 percent set aside by Invest Atlanta is a bit on the low side, especially for the large luxury high-rises that have received substantial subsidy.”

Though Fulton County found itself in the mayor's cross-hairs Thursday, Reed also made new moves to repair a long-strained relationship with the Atlanta Public Schools. The city and APS recently reached an agreement in a dispute over how to fund the Atlanta Beltline. And on Thursday, Reed announced plans to ask the Atlanta City Council to approve the transfer of 10 deeds the city has held to APS properties.

Last year at this time, Reed and APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen clashed when she called for him to release the deeds so that the school district could sell some of the properties no longer in use.

In a statement Thursday, Carstarphen said, “In less than a week, we have finally settled one dispute (the Beltline agreement) and aggressively embarked on resolving another decades long issue. I’m grateful to Mayor Reed for his leadership and renewed partnership to benefit Atlanta Public Schools students.”