Opinion: Push for higher Beltline taxes will cost renters, property owners

ajc.com

Credit: Dean Rohrer/Newsart

Credit: Dean Rohrer/Newsart

The newest proposal by the Atlanta Beltline to establish a Special Services District (SSD) covering property within a half mile of the entire proposed Beltline loop is the latest potential blow in the ever-growing struggle to provide housing affordability in our city. The proposal, which the Beltline is pushing towards a quiet, hasty adoption by Atlanta City Council, seeks to increase property taxes for multifamily rental properties in hopes of accelerating Beltline trail construction during one of the hardest markets the rental housing industry and our residents have ever endured.

As proposed, a Special Services District covering the entire 23-square-mile Beltline Planning Area would result in a direct pass-through to tens of thousands of renters, many of whom do not live directly on or across from the current or future Beltline, unfairly increasing their rents amid the height of an unprecedented economic and housing affordability crisis in our city and across the nation.

Jim Fowler
Jim Fowler

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

The timing of this proposal could not be worse for housing providers or renters in Atlanta. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, rental housing providers have been diligently working to keep residents from falling too far behind on rent by entering into flexible payment plans and rent deferral programs, waiving fees and late payment penalties, and helping their residents apply for grant funding and financial assistance through local nonprofits. Recent research conducted by the National Apartment Association estimated that apartment owners and operators within the city of Atlanta have lost more than $200 million collectively over the past year due to lost rent during the pandemic.

The state of Georgia specifically prohibits apartments from being included in other types of special tax districts like CIDs to prevent the renting population from being unfairly taxed higher than those who are able to purchase a home, as single-family homeowners are always expressly excluded from these types of taxes. The proposed Beltline SSD, however, would tax apartment properties but continue to exclude the tens of thousands of single-family homeowners who benefit financially from proximity to the Beltline.

The majority if not all of the apartment properties along the Beltline have experienced excessive property tax increases over the past decade, which has directly led to higher rents. Any property built in the last four years has also been required to restrict a significant number of units – 10 to 20 percent – with rents capped at a level to remain affordable to those making 60 to 80 percent of the area median income through the city’s inclusionary zoning policy, resulting in higher operating expenses for the property owner and more expensive rent for the unrestricted units. A new tax like the proposed Beltline SSD on apartment communities cannot be absorbed into the property’s budget and will undeniably result in lost value and increased rents across the property.

The proposed SSD concept directly conflicts with Atlanta’s collective efforts to address the growing housing affordability challenges around the Beltline and across our region. The multifamily housing industry has been a committed stakeholder in the pursuit of real, politically and economically viable solutions and programs to create and preserve housing affordability across metro Atlanta. We are hopeful that city leaders will join us in choosing to prioritize affordability over an expedited Beltline construction timeline.

It’s important to remember that the future of the Beltline does not depend on this Special Services District proposal, and the hundreds of millions in revenue it is expected to generate. This tool only serves to accelerate the pace at which the Beltline organization can acquire property and construct the trail, which may reduce the expected completion of the trail from 15 to 10 years.

While we look forward to the completion of the Beltline, attempting to speed up that construction timeline on the backs of those who are struggling most right now – Atlantans who rent an apartment home – cannot be the right path forward at this time.

If housing affordability is a public goal for Atlanta, our city leaders must collectively consider the realities of a policy like this that unfairly impacts the affordability of rental housing and have the courage to oppose it.

Jim Fowler is president of the Atlanta Apartment Association, the multifamily housing trade association for the Atlanta metro area with over 1,450 member companies managing 430,000-plus apartment homes.

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