Housing is another area where the plan could go bigger. According to a 2017 analysis, more than 100,000 renters in Atlanta pay too much for housing – including more than half of the renters of color in the city. Given the housing crunch, the plan’s goal of relieving cost burdens for 2,475 households over three years seems inadequate. Meanwhile, the plan’s target of providing 450 affordable homeownership opportunities is less than half that set by Boston, a city of similar size, in its recent housing plan. Although City Hall’s recent announcement of a $50 million affordable housing bond issuance is a step in the right direction, this represents only half of an initially planned $100 million commitment, and only 5% of the City’s previously stated goal of raising $1 billion in public and private funds for affordable housing. What Atlanta really needs is a housing trust fund supplemented by annual commitments; the bond-based approach, by contrast, is just a one-off. More promising is the administration’s recently announced plan to rezone large swaths of the city to legalize duplexes, which would significantly increase citywide housing capacity.
Strategic regional partnerships could also supercharge the impact of local investments. The Atlanta metropolitan area is home to a dynamic array of higher education institutions, which could be better leveraged to uplift access to opportunity. Rowen, a new innovation district located in Gwinnett County, is just one example of this sort of regional collaboration at work, bringing county government together with leading universities to promote the growth of the innovation economy. By 2035, Rowen is estimated to generate some 18,500 jobs, many of which – with the right educational and mobility investments – could be made available to out-of-work Atlantans. Other emerging tech hubs, like Washington, D.C., are taking precisely this approach to better network higher ed, industry and government in the service of an expanded talent pipeline.
Atlanta is well-positioned to lead the way in equitable economic development. The city has been home to countless trailblazers in business and politics. Atlantans have also raised the bar on inclusive urban planning in recent years, through projects like the Beltline, the Atlanta Land Trust, and the Westside Future Fund. Following a year of unparalleled turbulence – and with a new administration entering the White House – we believe there is more that the city’s recovery plan can do to deliver on that promise.
Mason Ailstock and Stan Wall are partners with HR&A Advisors, a consulting firm working in real estate and economic development. Ailstock is project manager for Gwinnett County’s Rowen effort.