August 19, 2019

What Are the Best Ways to Improve Housing Affordability In Metro Atlanta? Ask the Community.

Atlanta skyline

It’s time to get creative about how we develop and execute solutions to the growing challenge of housing affordability. The lack of climate resilient, equitable and affordable housing has ripple effects on health, economic mobility, and racial equality in our neighborhoods.

Knowing that the best solutions are rooted in a community-focused approach, our Southeast office in Atlanta, a city that loses 1,500 affordable homes annually, got curious about what would happen if we invited people to offer their ideas for solving this critical issue together. Not just decision makers, elected leaders, and grant seekers, but the whole community. 

We took to Facebook this past April, and invited the metro Atlanta community to actively participate through group discussion, idea-sharing and actual user-experience feedback through a five-day community brainstorm, ‘100 Great Ideas Atlanta.’ Over the course of five very busy days, more than 860 residents joined the group conversation offering 232 total submissions, 819 comments and 3,149 reactions. 

After the week wrapped, we developed a report with the goal of reviewing the ideas with elected officials and community leaders.

Five Major Themes From 100 Great Ideas Atlanta

1. Innovate on the Ground

Addressing challenges like housing affordability requires fresh ideas, and sometimes, it’s all about perspective. The Facebook community suggested many new ways of tackling the problem facing many Atlanta residents by re-imagining how we create, occupy and preserve the affordability of housing in the first place. Participants discussed sustainability and rent subsidies through shared responsibilities for renters inspired by the co-op model as a pathway to decreased housing costs.

We also heard suggestions from community members like utilizing accessory dwelling units such as an adapted garage or a backyard tiny house alongside a single-family home to improve affordability. Ideas for reusing buildings in new ways like retrofitting parking garages and the suggestion of creating a one-stop-shop for finding affordable housing in Atlanta also gained some traction. 

2. Expand and Protect Resources

Our Facebook group was also host to a robust discussion of resources—both currently available and potentially impactful. Many participants suggested that additional financial resources be dedicated to affordable housing development. Participants discussed the value that businesses and other anchor institutions can bring to housing affordability by providing resources or land. Turning publicly owned land into affordable housing, utilizing funds from philanthropy to buy property and increasing and expanding the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit were also central to the community’s vision of the future.

Beyond the need to develop new affordable units, participants noted the importance of protecting and utilizing our existing housing and land. To preserve currently affordable units, group members suggested efforts to maintain naturally occurring affordable housing and using land banks to hold blighted properties and redevelop them as affordable housing.

3. Advocate as a Community

The voice of the community matters. Getting the community behind smart reforms and innovative new policies can drive positive change. We learned through this campaign that there are many policy decisions that our elected and community leaders could make to influence the affordability of housing directly and indirectly.

Some of these policy decisions fall under the umbrella of “requirements” for developments - such as mandatory inclusionary zoning and rent control - while others include relaxing local policies related to zoning, parking requirements, unit size and accessory dwelling units. Zoning and policy changes are more likely to happen with community support, so ideas were also offered about how to increase the voice of the community. 

4. Leverage Taxes

The good old-fashioned laws of supply and demand tell us that one way to reduce the cost of housing is to have more of it available. There were numerous comments from group participants about factors that contribute to an undersupply of housing for locals, including the impact of Airbnb and property owners holding properties to wait for housing values to rise, creating blight in the process. To address these problems, many argued for the introduction of new taxes that do not impact those already struggling with housing affordability to make sure people can stay in their homes and to provide a dedicated source of funding for future affordable developments.

5. Consider the Bigger Picture

Participants highlighted that housing affordability is just a piece of a larger, more complex affordability crisis in Atlanta and that quality of life is impacted by a variety of factors, including racial equity, access to reliable and affordable transportation, wages, education, wealth creation and home ownership, and more. Solving the region’s housing challenges requires taking a step back in order to understand how all of these issues are interconnected.

Affordable housing is a complex topic. 100 Great Ideas put the community at the center of the dialogue and produced dozens of innovative and community-focused ideas with potential impact for so many neighborhoods in our region and across the country. If this campaign taught us anything, it’s that we can and must come together as a community to generate solutions that will strengthen our region. 

Read the full 100 Great Ideas Atlanta report; review the ideas for yourself; and discuss them with friends and colleagues. The more we all understand affordability challenges, the better we’ll be able to solve them.

Read the Report

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