An Affordable BeltLine?
The Atlanta BeltLine brings much promise to the city of Atlanta, but will elevated housing costs be an unwelcome addition? Atlanta is looking to a community land trust to preserve affordability for the long-term near this new asset.
The Atlanta BeltLine stands to be one of the most comprehensive and ambitious transit-oriented development projects in the city of Atlanta, and possibly the country. It is centered on a mostly defunct 22-mile railroad corridor that encircles the city’s downtown and midtown core and many surrounding neighborhoods. When complete, the BeltLine will have created 1,300 acres of new parkland, a 33-mile network of biking and walking trails, and a light rail system built along the rail corridor. Altogether, the project is envisioned to comprise over 10 square miles of development.
The light rail system and trail network will connect 45 Atlanta neighborhoods in all. In addition, the light rail system will connect with the city’s existing heavy rail system, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA). Overall, this new transportation system and trail network will offer Atlantans better transit and allow cyclists and pedestrians better access to the city’s major business districts, job centers, attractions and amenities. In terms of economic effects, the BeltLine is expected to reactivate an estimated 3,000 acres of underutilized properties and create 30,000 new jobs over its 25-year construction timeline.
But will the BeltLine preserve and create affordable housing? As one can expect, a transit-oriented development project like this comes with a hefty price tag: $2.8 billion over the 25-year development schedule. In order to fund the bulk of this project, the city of Atlanta established a tax allocation district (TAD)—what is usually called a “tax increment financing district”—along the 22-mile rail corridor. The TAD is expected to generate $1.3 to $1.7 billion in revenues over the 25-year period.
Fifteen percent of all revenues from the BeltLine TAD will be set aside for the BeltLine Affordable Housing Trust Fund (BAHTF). The BAHTF will be used to provide grants to develop and preserve affordable housing, downpayment assistance for lower income homebuyers, and funds for property acquisition for future affordable housing. Over the BeltLine’s 25-year development period, it is estimated that this affordable housing set-aside will come to $240 million. With this funding, the project aims to create and preserve more than 5,000 affordable housing units.
To extend the effects of this funding, a consortium of public sector, philanthropic, private, and community stakeholders have created the “Atlanta Land Trust Collaborative”: (ALTC) to establish neighborhood community land trusts that would take title to land in and around the BeltLine TAD, creating and sustaining a stock of homes whose affordability will last as long as the BeltLine’s infrastructure and amenities.
Ryan Sherriff is a research associate at the Center for Housing Policy in Washington, D.C.