Mayor debuts housing “Strike Force,” touts $59M investment—but none is new money

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ office on Wednesday debuted its long-awaited Affordable Housing Strike Force and said the city will dedicate $58.7 million toward housing-related initiatives—but none of the funds are new. 

The Dickens administration claimed in a press release that it was “issuing a challenge to break down barriers to the development and preservation of affordable homes in Atlanta,” noting the seemingly hefty investment breaks down to $22.5 million for emergency rental assistance funds, $9.1 million to relocate residents of the condemned Forest Cove apartment complex, $6.2 million in homeless services, and $20.9 million for affordable housing development.

But, like other urbanist watchdogs online, Dan Immergluck, a Georgia State University urban studies professor and frequent critic of City Hall’s housing affordability efforts, wasn’t impressed.

The first three amounts cited, Immergluck said in an email, are “previously committed federal funds” from pandemic-relief programs. And the $20.9 million is from an existing affordable housing trust fund that Gulch developer CIM Group pays for in exchange for nearly $2 billion in public subsidies—part of the controversial downtown redevelopment deal secured during former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration.

Immergluck pointed out that the housing trust fund amounts to just over 1% of the subsidy that the city gave to CIM Group.

Significantly, the housing expert added, the $58.7 million touted by the mayor’s office doesn’t include any mention of the city’s new affordable housing trust fund, a funding stream the Atlanta City Council created in December to route a small portion—eventually, a full 2%—of the city’s general fund toward housing.

What’s more, the city’s new housing trust fund isn’t included in Dickens’ first city budget unveiled last week, as WABE reported Wednesday. City officials said that’s because inflation is rising at a faster rate than city revenue.

“No one said it was new money,” said Dickens’ spokesperson Michael Smith in response to Immergluck’s criticisms. “The point is we are going to spend the money.” 

Smith added that $90 million from the city’s affordable housing bond program is available to spend. 

“Housing is foundational to a community’s health, and simply put, Atlanta doesn’t have enough of it,” Dickens said in the press release. “Since Day 1 of my Administration, the development and preservation of affordable housing has been at the top of our agenda, and the steps we are taking today will rocket us forward. Atlantans deserve access to high-quality homes that they can afford.”

The administration also announced the inaugural meeting of the Affordable Housing Strike Force, which he announced during his April 4 State of the City speech, took place Wednesday.

The Strike Force’s role in the pursuit of housing equity has been a mystery for the past month.  On Wednesday, the mayor’s office said the team, drawn from heads of city agencies, will collaborate with non-profit, faith-based, and commercial developers to build and preserve affordable homes. 

“Together, the Strike Force will identify viable public land, secure funding, and expedite regulatory processes for development of affordable housing,” the press release said.

“Work has already begun to conduct a market valuation study that will identify sites that are ready to be built in the short term as well as other large-scale project sites with transformational potential,” it added. 

Incoming Strike Force members named are: 

  • City of Atlanta COO Lisa Gordon
  • City of Atlanta senior advisor Courtney English
  • MARTA interim general manager & CEO Collie Greenwood
  • Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring
  • Atlanta Beltline president & CEO Clyde Higgs
  • Atlanta Housing president & CEO Eugene Jones, Jr.
  • Invest Atlanta president & CEO Dr. Eloisa Klementich
  • Metro Atlanta Land Bank executive director Christopher Norman
  • Atlanta Land Trust executive director Amanda Rhein

The strike force “certainly contains competent [affordable housing] practitioners and public officials,” Immergluck acknowledged. “What is missing, so far, is a real commitment to devoting city general revenue funds to affordable housing, consistent with the December law.”

“What is also missing is a stronger commitment to transparency and honest accounting, rather than continuing to play the public relations games of prior administrations on affordable housing efforts,” the urban gadfly added.

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