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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Beltline’s affordable housing program starts up despite shakeup, economy

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No matter how green its parks, sleek its streetcars and well-maintained its bike trails, should the planned Beltline become a playground solely for the well-heeled, it will have failed at one of its core objectives.

From its beginnings, one of the most important initiatives of the $2.8 billion Beltline project has been to ensure that people of all incomes have an opportunity to live near or along the 22-mile loop of parks, trails and transit. And even more importantly, to prevent Atlanta from repeating the past mistake of sweeping out longstanding communities for the cause of revitalization.

With last November’s referendum to allow school systems to legally participate in redevelopment projects — and the Atlanta Public Schools’ recent decision to once again opt into the Beltline’s tax allocation district — the largest public works endeavor of its kind in the country is now moving closer to becoming a reality.

According to Beltline legislation, 15 percent of the taxpayer dollars used to fund the project — about $240 million — must be set aside for affordable housing. The goal: 5,600 affordable units distributed throughout Atlanta over the 25-year lifespan of the project’s TAD, its main funding source. The first round of that funding, totaling $8.3 million, is currently under way.

"Arguably, that’s the largest single pot of money for affordable housing in the city of Atlanta," says Bruce Gunter, president and CEO of affordable-housing developer Progressive Redevelopment Inc., who’s pushed for mixed-income communities and work force housing for more than 20 years. "I remember when you couldn’t get diddly for affordable housing."

But the program had the misfortune to kick off in the middle of the big real estate meltdown. And the advisory board tasked with helping guide the program was recently told of an unforeseen ethical snafu.

In December, Gunter, then chair of the Beltline Affordable Housing Advisory Board, asked Ginny Looney, the city’s ethics officer, whether he and his fellow board members would be allowed to apply for the affordable housing incentive funds.

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(Photo by Joeff Davis)

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