Six of the major contenders in the race for Atlanta mayor vowed at a forum Wednesday to work with the development community to tackle key issues such as affordable housing and to find fixes to other challenges that will arise as the city’s population swells in the years ahead.
The forum, held by the Council for Quality Growth, an influential trade group for developers and related fields, focused on economic issues, such as growth, transportation and regionalism. The candidates’ answers to questions were largely in the spirit of finding common ground with business leaders.
On the topic of the city’s notoriously frustrating permitting process, for instance, candidates Peter Aman, Keisha Lance Bottoms, John Eaves, Kwanza Hall, Ceasar Mitchell and Mary Norwood all said the process was overdue for an overhaul.
The Council for Quality Growth helped develop an affordable housing ordinance in Atlanta and the topic of affordability loomed large in the forum. Here’s what the candidates, in alphabetical order, had to say on affordable housing:
Peter Aman, former Atlanta chief operating officer:
Aman called affordability “a critical need of the city,” and one that if the city gets right will help traffic congestion. Working-class people have had to move away to afford their rents and mortgages, but their jobs remain in the city, meaning more workers drive into Atlanta.
“We have people who built Atlanta being forced out of Atlanta,” he said. Aman said he’d create a committee on the subject of inclusionary zoning, and said the city needs to set objectives and create predictable development rules. He also said the city will use land trusts, tax incentives and other tools.
“We’re only 8 percent of the metro Atlanta population, and capital will flee if we get this wrong,” he said of business investment.
City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms:
Bottoms said the city needs to get creative, and she touted her effort to create displacement-free zones in neighborhoods where residents fear displacement from redevelopment.
Out of that effort, city leaders, the Westside Future Fund and corporations created an Anti-Displacement Fund, designed to protect homeowners near the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium from rising property tax rates, she said. The fund is backed by private dollars and will help cushion longtime residents in the shadow of the new stadium from the shock of rising taxes.
“It will be most important to look at expansion of displacement-free zones throughout the city and make sure they’re neighborhood-specific.”
Former Fulton County Chairman John Eaves:
Eaves focused his comments on the issue of taxes, including a property tax freeze approved by the Fulton County commission that Eaves championed after residents got sticker shock from soaring property tax assessments.
“I think there’s tremendous opportunity to work with the state Legislature to provide creative ways to provide relief to seniors,” Eaves said, including exempting or reducing the burden of school taxes.
In hot neighborhoods such as the Old Fourth Ward, where rising property values have displaced many longtime residents, Eaves said the city could look at freeze taxes in those specific areas.
City Councilman Kwanza Hall:
Hall said he would leverage 11 Atlanta Housing Authority properties totaling 400 or so acres to develop new units and said as mayor he believed 20,000 new units is an achievable goal.
“But we need to bring partners to table,” he said.
The city also must build more density, including affordable units, at MARTA stations. Building near MARTA reduces the need for a car, cutting residents’ monthly costs, he said. If you remove the need for a car, he said, “you change the game.”
City Council President Ceasar Mitchell:
“Affordable housing is probably the most important issue in our city,” Mitchell said. He said a city without affordable housing loses its diversity.
Mitchell pitched what he called a “blight to light” program, to turn vacant houses and lots into homes for cops, firefighters and teachers, and said he would incentivize affordable housing development through Invest Atlanta. He said his goal would be to create 30,000 new affordable units as mayor.
He also said the city should look at increasing the homestead exemption to help prevent displacement of seniors and make ease the burden of property taxes on working families.
City Councilwoman Mary Norwood:
“We need to ensure every part of the city has affordable housing,” Norwood said.
She said the issue will require a number of tools, including federal housing assistance, the Atlanta Housing Authority, Invest Atlanta and the development community. She also said she’d like to see an enhanced lease-to-own purchasing model to turn more renters into buyers, and tax abatements to encourage landlords to rehab older affordable properties.
Norwood also said the city needs to do more to ensure seniors aren’t displaced by rising property taxes, and wants to explore an employer-assisted workforce housing model.
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