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City Councilman Pushing For Affordable BeltLine Ordinance

Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens wants to force multifamily developers throughout the city to include affordable housing in their apartment projects. He is starting with the Atlanta BeltLine.

Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens, who is pushing for an inclusionary zoning ordinance along the Atlanta BeltLine

Dickens is working on a plan to revise zoning ordinances that would cover the 22-mile path of the Atlanta BeltLine and require developers to set aside portions of multifamily projects as affordable units. While short on specifics, the ordinance would require any project of more than 10 units to set aside a percentage of its units as affordable.

The ordinances would restrict the deeds on those developments to hold those affordable units for 20 years, he said. In exchange, developers would have access to incentives that would reduce property taxes, reduce parking requirements and allow for more density, Dickens said. The proposed ordinance should come before a city council vote before the end of the year.

“Yes, we need to have a mandatory inclusionary zoning policy,” he said.

With city elections coming up this year, including to replace outgoing Mayor Kasim Reed, the lack of affordable housing options within the city has become a hot topic, especially along the BeltLine, where developers have been unleashing new housing units, often priced at the top end of the market, where rents can reach upward of $2.30/SF, according to Haddow & Co.

Recently, The Atlanta BeltLine Inc. announced plans to set aside 15% of its net bond proceeds for affordable housing, a move that looks to create 5,600 new affordable housing units along the path. Reed has called on developers to push for more affordable housing in the city, pegging it as one of the key issues facing the city going forward.

Most recently, Atlanta BeltLine named Rea Ventures Group to develop a second phase of the Reynoldstown Crossing lofts, in which the developer will create 118 affordable housing rental units, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle. That is on top of the first phase, built in 2012, that included nearly 30 units sold as affordable homes.

Distribution of median household income inside the City of Atlanta as of 2015

Dickens said the rise in luxury apartment stock in the city may be affordable for high-income earners, many who have been moving into the city in recent years. The median household income in the city, now more than $50,200/year, jumped more than 44% between 2000 and 2015. 

But those working retail, lower wage or public service jobs have difficulty justifying the rents inside the city, Dickens said.

“You're basically priced out, so you keep driving until you qualify,” he said. “So you basically find yourself an hour away from Atlanta. And no, $1,800 [per month] is not the norm. That is very luxury.”

Dickens is no stranger to the affordability issue. Last year, he pushed an ordinance through the city that requires any apartment developer receiving public funds to set aside up to 15% of his project for affordable units. He also said the BeltLine zoning overlay proposal, if it passes, would be a first step toward pushing for an eventual citywide affordability ordinance.

Dickens is among the panelists focused on the issue of affordability — including Atlanta Housing Authority CEO Catherine Buell and U.S. Housing and Urban Development State of Georgia Field Office Director Michael German — at Bisnow's Atlanta Affordability Outlook 7:30 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 30, at the Westin Buckhead Atlanta.