Brian McGowan, the enthusiastic Atlanta Beltline leader who recently said creating 10,000 units of affordable housing is possible near the multi-use trail—or 4,400 more than a goal famously set by the Atlanta City Council—has left the project’s helm.
His recent departure and upcoming move to Seattle casts questions on the agency’s affordability aspirations.
Will McGowan’s successor put the Beltline’s affordable housing plans back on track to hit the 5,600-unit mark? Or could the new Beltline captain embrace McGowan’s dream of nearly doubling that number?
That all remains to be seen, but a new leader has been tapped for the Beltline’s top job—even if he’s just a placeholder—as the stakes have never been higher for trailside affordable housing.
Enter Clyde Higgs, the Beltline’s interim CEO, who’s stepping up from his post as chief operating officer, a job he’s had since 2015.
Meanwhile, the Beltline’s Affordable Housing Working Group, after five months of meetings, has published a report on the project’s progress and ambitions.
Check out the full report here, and have a look below at what we feel are key takeaways:
- In order to hit 5,600 affordable units by 2030, the Beltline and its partners will need to create or identify “250 affordable units annually for the next two fiscal years, 320 affordable units annually [between 2021 and 2025], and 380 affordable units annually [thereafter, until 2030.]” That’s roughly the range of units at one multifamily complex built around Atlanta in recent years.
- The Working Group is comprised of so-called “affordable housing experts” from public, private, and nonprofit channels, such as Invest Atlanta, Columbia Residential, and Wells Fargo, to name just a few. Sounds like a healthy mix.
- Beltline officials make no bones about it: The project is “neither a housing provider nor a development authority,” so it needs outside help to move toward the goal of creating and protecting 5,600 units of affordable housing within its Tax Allocation District.
- The Working Group maintains that “all contributions from public resources” should count toward that TAD goal. Since 2006, the Beltline and its public partners have either built or preserved 1,600 units of affordable housing within the TAD. Another 1,042 exist in the Beltline Planning Area—the half-mile zones on either side of the corridor.
- In 2005, the project’s grant redevelopment plan projected that funding for affordable housing could come by way of seven bond issuances that the TAD could use to raise some $240 million through 2030. The Great Recession obviously didn’t help the Beltline keep progress on track, and only two bonds have been issued, raising just $25 million—about 10 percent of what was expected.
- Quoth the report: “Affordable rental housing generally serves families earning up to 80 percent of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Area Median Income (AMI) and affordable homeownership funding serves families earning up to 120 percent of AMI.”
- But ... the Beltline wants to help families earning up to 60 percent of the AMI—“a significant need in Atlanta”—although a family of four at 60 percent of the AMI earns less than $50,000 a year.
- The AMI for a family of four is currently $74,800.
- While property acquisition and construction costs spike, funding from federal, state, and local governments is also becoming more challenging to obtain. So, “developers of affordable housing must charge restricted rents in order to keep the units affordable even when the costs to acquire parcels of land and construction costs to build are rising and are not similarly capped,” meaning each unit requires more subsidy than was expected in 2005.
- The Working Group wants affordable units created in the Beltline Planning Area to be counted toward the 5,600-unit goal, but it also aims to up that affordability aspiration—perhaps to 10,000 units, as former CEO McGowan suggested?
- ABI Affordable Housing Working Group Final Report [Atlanta Beltline Inc.]