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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Beltline buys Reynoldstown lofts for affordable housing

Triumph Lofts, which literally abuts the Atlanta Beltline, has a new owner — the Beltline
  • Joeff Davis
  • Triumph Lofts, which abuts the Atlanta Beltline, has a new owner — the Beltline!
It's been a rough few years for the Triumph Lofts, the 30-unit condo complex on Memorial Drive on the edge of Reynoldstown.

Just as developers put the finishing touches — stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors, all the trappings of a modern loft — on the renovated motorcycle-parts warehouse, the housing market collapsed. Then it got hit by a tornado. Then its developers reportedly had to wrestle with the feds after its lender bank failed. Sometime in the last year or two, the property, which features a pool, rooftop deck and a hot, hot, hot location along the Atlanta Beltline, fell into receivership. Since then, the property has sat virtually empty and in limbo, like much of Memorial Drive, which had been on the cusp of revitalization during the housing market boom.

"That building has pretty much sat there," says Jeff Landers, president of the Reynoldstown Civic Improvement League, a neighborhood association. "It’s pretty much finished. They just have to put people in it."

If things go according to plan, that'll soon happen. CL has learned that Atlanta Beltline Inc., the nonprofit tasked with planning and developing the 22-mile loop of parks, trails and transit, purchased the loft complex several weeks ago for $3.7 million. According to Fulton County tax records, the property was purchased for $4.9 million in 2007 before its extensive renovation.

Beltline officials' plans? Self-storage units! No, just kidding. They plan to convert 28 of the loft's 30 condos — which, in 2007, were marketed for as much as $340,000 — into affordable housing. The other two units would be market price.

An ABI spokesman confirmed information about the purchase, but preferred to wait until a later date to offer more details about the initiative. Beltline officials bought the property with cash from the Beltline's tax allocation district, or TAD. Funding from the Beltline's Affordable Housing Trust Fund will be used to finish construction on the project, sell the homes, and for downpayment assistance. (TAD financing involves issuing bonds against rising property values in a district around the Beltline. Fifteen percent of each Beltline bond issuance must be allocated for the AHTF.)

"We’ll be making an announcement in the next few weeks about exciting new affordable housing opportunities along the Atlanta Beltline," he said.

ABI's currently seeking firms to help market the two-bedroom condos, which it hopes to sell by March of next year in a lottery of pre-qualified buyers. Doing so would help project officials meet an April deadline that requires any unspent cash from the AHTF to be returned to bond holders.

Now, this isn't exactly the kind of affordable housing that will help people on the low end of the income spectrum put a roof over their heads. To be eligible, a two-person household can earn anywhere up to $68,000, which is considerably more than Atlanta's median household income of $50,000. All units will be priced at just under $150,000, but owners of the 25 "standard affordable" units would benefit from available subsidies that would lower the monthly mortgage payments to less than $1,000.

Three additional affordable units will be placed in a "community land trust," a complex financial model overseen by a nonprofit board that many housing experts consider the key to ensuring affordable housing stock. The Atlanta Land Trust Collaborative — a coalition of more than 30 community development corporations, philanthropic organizations and clergy groups — will oversee the units and would have the right of refusal if the owner wishes to sell.

ABI will have the option of developing Triumph Lofts' second phase or, if it chooses, selling those development rights. The few existing residents' leases were terminated, informed construction was set to begin, and given the option of applying for the affordable housing program.

It's an innovative project and, to our knowledge, the Beltline's first foray into housing. The upsides are obvious: The complex — which, according to ABI documents, is 85 percent completed and needs only basic fixes — is sure to attract young creatives and others itching to live along the greenspace loop. The Affordable Housing Trust Fund cash, which can be used by new homeowners for downpayment assistance or to incentivize developers, has to be spent or else it's essentially wasted. And having more people living directly along the project should help spur development along the proposed transit route's stops.

But the purchase is sure to also cause some interesting debate (especially for policy wonks and taxpayer advocates). One such issue: Why did Beltline officials choose Triumph Lofts over, say, a condo complex in southwest Atlanta? Should the TAD dollars — which are typically spent on infrastructure in blighted areas — have been spent on lofts for hipsters rather than on building decent apartments for the working poor?

Regardless, the possibility of seeing people occupy a building that has sat empty for years delights Greg Levine of Trees Atlanta, whose offices are down the street.

“We’re thrilled," he says. "We’re excited there will be people in the streets and will be involved."

Adds Landers, the neighborhood association president in Reynoldstown, which he says is already home to condos, lofts, Habitat for Humanity homes and nearly every other type of housing you could imagine: "That’s a very exciting possibility. Not only to the neighborhood, but the businesses in the neighborhood and Cabbagetown as well... It’s exciting to have a choice of housing types in the neighborhood. It gives us a great mix of neighbors."

Note: This article has been updated to clarify the status of the property prior to its purchase by Atlanta Beltline Inc.

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