Affordable housing remains hot topic for Atlanta, DeKalb officials

According to Atlanta Regional Housing Forum founder Bill Bolling, a record number of people attended a virtual forum that featured Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and representatives from Clayton, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties who gathered Feb. 2 to hear about the metro area’s affordable housing priorities in 2022 and beyond.

At the event hosted by Atlanta Regional Housing Forum members, more than 800 people signed up to hear Dickens and other officials discuss issues surrounding affordable housing in Atlanta and neighboring cities and counties.

Based on a presentation given by Mike Carnathan, manager of the research and analytics division at Atlanta Regional Commission, challenges in the metro-Atlanta area include a lack of new supply, losing supply and accessibility for low- and moderate-income households, home price increases, rent increases, transportation costs, and an increase in homeownership wealth gaps.

“We’re seeing new supply getting introduced into the market and it’s gone in about 20 days on average,” said Carnathan.
Dickens said affordable housing was one of the top issues he ran on during his campaign. He said his administration is working on:

• Setting aside up to 2 percent of the city’s general fund budget into the Community Affordable Housing Trust Fund created by the city council last year
• Building or preserving 20,000 units of affordable housing during the next eight years
• Helping the faith-based community to produce 2,000 (of the proposed 20,000) units
• Securing a chief housing officer by the end of 2022

“This is a delivery moment,” said Dickens. “We have plenty of information to know what to do and we have to go out and do it.”

Also participating in the forum was DeKalb County Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson who spoke about what she’s learned through hosting virtual meetings to better understand – and begin to tackle – the housing crisis in DeKalb County.

“In DeKalb County, we currently have 4,700 vouchers for affordable housing, but we have a waiting list of 45,000 people. If that’s not sobering, I don’t know what is,” said Cochran-Johnson. “After realizing the magnitude of this issue, we immediately set out to solve the problem with two things: education and empowerment through identifying strategic partners who can assist us.”

Cochran-Johnson said DeKalb officials are looking to the faith-based community for help and seeing positive results so far.

“Our most recent townhall was focused on enlisting the faith-based community because we’ve seen successes there. In many instances, they have resources, land, and capacity to make a meaningful difference. As a result, I currently have seven different faith-based communities or nonprofits in the pipeline to develop senior or affordable housing.”

Cochran-Johnson also acknowledged that changes needed to correct the housing crisis cannot be rushed.

“DeKalb does have a comprehensive plan and it calls for the development of 60 housing units on an annual basis. But the data and research indicated, pre-pandemic, that we needed to develop a minimum of 3,000 units,” she said. “We can make gains, but it’s definitely going to take us enlisting, educating, making partners aware of resources, and a collaborative approach. This remains a challenge, and I wish I could sit here and say that we would be able to develop, over the course of the next year, a certain number of units. It is an ongoing struggle but each day we’re working to increase the inventory in a reasonable way based on what is out there in the market.”

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