Report: 50 years after Fair Housing Act, inequality is rampant in Atlanta

A demographical analysis of Atlanta and three other major American cities is showing that a stark difference still exists in several key categories between residents on either side of the proverbial tracks.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act—the landmark legislation that aimed to eliminate discrimination in U.S. housing—real estate company Trulia partnered with the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) to shine a light on modern-day housing inequality and why closing the gaps is important.

Analysts found that half a century since the legislation had passed, inequality remains rampant across Atlanta.

Trulia and NFHA honed in on four metros—Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, and Oakland, respectively—in an attempt to spotlight cities with a range of geographies and histories with segregation and fair housing.

In summation, across each metro, the study found that “features like banks, health institutions, full-service grocery stores, and parks are significantly less likely to be located in neighborhoods of color than in white communities,” per the report. “And, equally notably, alternative banking establishments like check-cashing services and payday lenders are significantly more likely to be located in neighborhoods of color.”

According to a Trulia rep, one data point in Atlanta was particularly glaring: majority-white tracts have 25.3 healthcare providers for every 10,000 people, versus just 9.8 in majority-black tracts.

Other highlights (or lowlights) across each city, per the report:

“There are 33.9 percent fewer active or healthy lifestyle amenities such as parks, playground, and recreation centers across the four metros in majority-minority areas than majority-white census tracts;

On average, majority-minority Census tracts across these four metros have roughly 33 percent fewer traditional banking establishments than majority-white tracts.”

Head here for an interactive map of Atlanta and surrounding areas, broken down by Census tract.

All of this is not to say the City of Atlanta hasn’t acted recently to improve equality, specifically when it comes to access to housing for residents not pulling high salaries.

Faced with an intown affordability dilemma, Atlanta in January became the first city in Georgia to adopt inclusionary zoning ordinances.

The rules, which apply to forthcoming residential projects near the Beltline or Mercedes-Benz Stadium, require developers to dedicate a specific portion of units to Atlantans who make between 60 and 80 percent of the area’s median income.

How effective the ordinances will be—and what dampening effect they’ll have on development—remains to be seen.

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Wings bounce back with road win in Atlanta |

Wings bounce back with road win in Atlanta

GWINNETT, GA– The Kalamazoo Wings got back into the win column after a wire-to-wire performance produced a 4-3 win against the Atlanta Gladiators on Wednesday at Infinite Energy Arena.

Skating through a tightly-contested first period, the Wings were on the receiving end of a generous bounce in the closing minutes and produced the opening

frame’s only tally. Kyle Blaney controlled the puck along the right wing side and went to rifle a backdoor pass, only to see it deflected off a defender’s stick. The re-directed puck sailed in the air, over the head of Dan Vladar, off his blocker and into the goal. It was Blaney’s 10th of the season and sent the Wings into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead.

Needing less than a minute of the second period to go ahead by two, Justin Taylor improved his team lead in goals with his 32nd of the season. As Danny Moynihan gained the Atlanta line, he fired a long shot to the goal which was kicked away by Vladar. The rebound landed straight to the tape of Taylor, who one-touched it into the back of the goal.

42 seconds later, Atlanta used a quick transition play to cut the Wings’ lead back to a single goal. Darby Llewelyn walked up the right wing and fired a rink-wide pass to Todd Skirving for a one-time tally.

Before the period came to a close, a costly turnover by Vladar gave Kalamazoo a two-goal lead. Vladar came out of his net to play the puck, but he turned it over directly to Scott Henegar, who twisted to his forehand and slid home his 11th of the season. Henegar’s late goal put Kalamazoo ahead by a 3-1 margin through the first forty minutes of the game.

Continuing their control of the game into the third period, the Wings finished off a glorious passing play in the attacking zone and went ahead by a game-high three goals. Ben Wilson moved in behind the net, dished to the wing for Josh Pitt, who threaded a backdoor feed to Brendan Bradley for a tap-in finish.

Four minutes later, Atlanta showed a flash of offensive firepower over the course of an eleven-second span. Derek Nesbitt finished off a nice passing play with a one-timer to start the scoring, and Llewelyn cashed in on a Kalamazoo turnover 11 seconds later to make it a one-goal game in the blink of an eye.

Kalamazoo settled down on the defensive end in the closing minutes and Michael Garteig made a series of late stops to keep the Wings ahead throughout the remainder of regulation.

Next: Kalamazoo @ Norfolk Admirals- Friday, March 30, 7 p.m., Norfolk Scope.

Broadcast information: Friday’s game will air on AM 590/FM 106.9 WKZO or online at


Single-game tickets are on sale! Tickets start as low as $10 and can be purchased at or at the Wings Event Center box office.

Wings Event Center, owned and operated by Greenleaf Hospitality Group, is home to the Kalamazoo Wings professional hockey team and a full entertainment venue offering concerts, sporting events, family shows and trade shows. Built in 1974, Wings Event Center values partnerships with the community to bring events and attractions that enrich the lives of residents in the Kalamazoo area.

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BeltLine elevates head of housing policy to cabinet level position

The Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. has elevated the position of housing director to a cabinet level position, underscoring BeltLine President and CEO Brian McGowan’s intention to sharpen the BeltLine’s effort to comply with City Hall’s mandate that the BeltLine develop 5,600 units of affordable housing along the corridor.

The Irwin Street Market is among many shops that have opened to serve residents moving into homes along the Atlanta BeltLine, most of which are not affordable to folks earning the salary of teachers. File/.Credit: David Pendered

Even at the C-suite level, the position faces a tough challenge to generate much interest from the private sector in building homes that are affordable to folks earning the salary of a school teacher.

Developers as far back as 2008 were seeking from ABI anywhere from $80,000 to $90,000 per affordable unit. The BeltLine was offering $40,000 and not many developers took the incentive, the BeltLine’s former housing director, James Alexander, said at a September 2016 meeting of the Regional Housing Forum, an affiliate of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Vaughn was among the first BeltLine officials to acknowledge publicly that the urban redevelopment program was not meeting its mandate to establish affordable housing, along with the network of trails, mass transit and parks that are central to its mission. Fast-forward to the 2017 mayoral election, and the city’s dearth of affordable housing prompted then candidate, now mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms to issue the following announcement on Oct. 11:

“Keisha Lance Bottoms announces her plan to increase affordable housing, pledging to raise and commit $1 billion to expand affordability throughout Atlanta and stop the displacement of residents in gentrified communities, through the creation of the Atlanta Affordable Housing Initiative.”

In 2016, Alexander said 570 units of affordable housing had been built in the BeltLine corridor. The number of such units has increased to 822, the BeltLine stated March 16. That’s an increase of 44 percent.

In all, a total of 2,565 affordable units have been created “within walking distance” of the BeltLine in conjunction with Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm; the Georgia Department of Community Affairs; and the Atlanta Housing Authority, according to the statement.

At the current rate of construction, it will take almost 90 years to develop the 5,600 units of affordable homes that are required by the City Hall legislation that established the BeltLine, according to the latest housing estimate, which Alexander provided in September 2016.

Dwayne Vaughn

The BeltLine quietly announced the elevation of the housing director to vice president status on March 16. That’s when it announced the hiring of Dwayne Vaughn, a longtime housing executive, to fill the newly created position of vice president of Housing Policy and Development.

The statement did not mention that the previous position had been ranked as a director of the Housing Policy and Development. The statement did observe that the new position will:

“[W]ork closely with the COO and executive team providing senior level leadership, innovation and focus to achieve ABI’s affordable workforce housing goals and initialives. He will work collaboratively with neighborhoods, city leaders, developers, housing providers and numerous other private and public stakeholders to help ensure that ABI’s housing efforts provide workforce families the opportunity to live and thrive within the Atlanta BeltLine’s impact areas.”

McGowan emphasized the notion of inclusion in the BeltLine’s housing program:

“Dwayne is an exceptional addition to ABI. He brings creativity and collaboration to the job as ABI continues to support Atlanta’s affordable housing leaders and prioritize Atlanta residents, equity, and inclusion in our housing efforts.”

Vaughn served most recently as executive director of the Mobile (Ala.) Housing Board, and its affiliates. Vaughn stepped down from that position in February 2017, according to a report in

While heading the MHA, Vaughn advocated for the authority to demolish and replace dilapidated housing structures rather than plow the money into maintaining failing buildings, according to the report. Atlanta’s housing authority implemented this approach in the 1990s.

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Overcoming the affordable housing funding challenge - SaportaReport

Overcoming the affordable housing funding challenge

By Guest Columnist MIKE DOBBINS, a professor of the practice of planning at Georgia Tech’s College of Design and and a longtime advocate for housing affordability

The city is making constructive strides toward addressing its ever-growing affordable housing needs. Researchers are pretty much in agreement that a stable, safe, and affordable home provides the fundamental and essential grounding for families to make their way into better education, improved health, higher incomes, and a quality of life that holds out hope.

Mike Dobbins

The recent city elections highlighted the urgency for housing fairness, with the candidates mostly all pledging to do something about it. There seems to be a will for searching a way out of Atlanta’s greatest shame, its persistent poverty, dearth of hope, and widening wealth gap.

Recent moves by the Atlanta City Council, led by Councilmember Andre Dickens, beyond ongoing programs, mark the significant shift in priorities, and one hopes that momentum continues:

Requiring residential developments relying on municipal bond finance rates to include a percentage of affordable units; Amending the Beltline overlay district zone to require “inclusionary zoning,” that is, between 10 percent and 15 percent of new residential units in a development must be provided for families classified as eligible based on income – hopefully that new zoning provision will extend to the whole city; Reactivating a $40 million housing opportunity bond fund launched in the Shirley Franklin administration in support of producing affordable units – hopefully that amount will expand, with the discussion below suggesting a way how; Amending the R5 zoning district to allow garage conversions or accessory dwelling units (ADU), that is, small houses on the same lot as the primary house, to provide for more affordable options as well as a means to support the principal owner’s mortgage and other payments; Located along the Atlanta BeltLine near Fourth Ward Park, the Flats at Ponce City Market has one bedroom, one bath apartments priced at from $1,804 to $2,615 a month. Credit: Invest Atlanta, in addition to amping up its use of bond financing in support of affordability, has been purchasing land in areas under threat of gentrification and displacement; The Atlanta Housing Authority, with a new city administration, should be able to use its land holdings and considerable cash resources to step forward in building and leveraging affordability; The City for All Housing Coalition and the TransFormation Alliance, born out of the Regional Housing Forum and the Equitable Transit Oriented Development task force, have been working hard to educate and lobby hard in support of new Mayor Lance Bottom’s pledge of putting $1 billion to invest toward the vision; And the Atlanta BeltLine now seems to be taking its mandate seriously to produce 5,600 affordable units by 2030, acknowledging that it’s about 4,600 units short, now half way through its funding life.

Read on to understand the BeltLIne’s opportunity to begin to meet its goal.

The BeltLine’s prospects for being able to step up face two major hurdles: Land cost and money.

First, the hot market, partly caused by the BeltLine’s own relentless hype, drives up land costs and taxes, the rise of which is the BeltLine’s life blood through its BeltLine Tax Allocation District. The conflict of interest for the BeltLine is obvious: How can an agency that funds itself by pumping up property values and taxes deliver land at below market rates?

Second, the money, where could it come from? As it happens, by rearranging its priorities the Beltline could dedicate much more of its considerable resources toward achieving its goal. But this isn’t easy and would take two major moves, one related to its revenue stream and the other related to its streetcar priority.

The planned routes for the transit system associated with the Atlanta BeltLine are drawn to scale within the boundaries of the City of Atlanta. Credit: Mike Dobbins

On the first, the Atlanta BeltLine board and its boosters who do support the affordable housing imperative need to consider the negative impact on housing affordability caused by the agency’s TAD revenue stream. The shifts necessary to do this would call on the BeltLine to damp down its relentless, albeit brilliant, hype that portrays itself almost as an alternate city within the city. This picture, in fact, has contributed to the speculation that boosts property values.

Concurrent with muting its trumpets, the BeltLine might need to accept a more modest or more protracted flow of its tax revenue. For example, is it good, really, for the affected neighborhoods and the city to support the BeltLine’s disruptive drive to produce hyper densities next to settled single-family neighborhoods? Its activities have been shown to accelerate property and tax values with predictable, usually unwanted, and unnecessary neighborhood displacement impacts.

At the same time, should not the BeltLine redirect a major portion of its revenues toward acquiring properties as quickly and as deftly as it can, a tactic that Invest Atlanta has been utilizing for some time now in Westside neighborhoods? The result would allow the BeltLine to sell or gift land to affordable housing developers at rates where the affordability mandate could be met and hopefully strengthened.

And about the money, if the BeltLine were to redirect resources it has currently committed to streetcars, it could make a big dent in its obstacles to meeting its affordable housing mandate. The following lays out the case for such a transformation in purpose.

Overall, to date the BeltLine has expended about $600 million, most of it on the East side and most of it on real estate, parks, trails, and other amenities for the ever hotter East side that emerged after the 1996 Summer Olympic Games and fired up as the BeltLine came along 10 years later.

According to its websites, the BeltLine originally anticipated generating about $3 billion in TAD revenues over the 25-year life of the program, about half over by now. Partly due to the impact of the Great Recession, that projection was cut in 2014 to about $1.5 billion. The overall cost of the program, including affordable housing, parks and trails, and transit is estimated at $4.8 billion, thus a funding gap of about $3.3 billion.

Policy leaders of the Atlanta BeltLine can choose between continuing with an aging plan to built a transit loop along the BeltLine corridor, or reallocating those planned transit funds to provide housing that’s affordable to folks earning the salary of school teachers. Credit: Mike Dobbins

The status of the BeltLine’s streetcar program further casts doubt on its viability. The great bulk of the BeltLine’s program cost was slated for building a two-track streetcar system, originally for the 22-mile loop that goes around, but not to, the city’s major concentrations of destinations. The BeltLine completed a Tier One environmental impact statement for that concept seven years ago, with the requirement to complete a Tier Two EIS, the schedule for which seems to be in limbo or may have been abandoned.

Beginning in about 2010, after significant investment in the loop idea, the BeltLine began to listen to those who had tried for years to point out that a transit system needs to get people to where they need to go. Absorbing that wisdom, the BeltLine conducted a whole new study, completed and adopted by the city council in 2015, that called for a 50-mile, two-track streetcar system, termed the Atlanta Streetcar System Plan (SSP). Touted as Atlanta’s plan for transit, however, it does not begin to serve the city as a whole. (see map that locates the scope of this plan in the context of the city boundaries)

The current priorities for the SSP call for about 16 miles of streetcar, grouped into four subsets: Eastside, Westside, Midtown and Downtown. Unlike the loop, this concept actually might allow some people to get from their origins to their destinations. The required environmental review for each of the four groups is underway, with end dates uncertain.

Current rules of thumb for the cost of urban streetcar systems run at about $100 million per mile. Using the rule of thumb cost estimate, the 16-mile phases would require about $1.6 billion, with the whole package costing about $5 billion. The BeltLine has been reluctant, or at least coy, about dealing with what the streetcar system might cost and how it might be funded since its $1.4 billion budget doesn’t come close to meeting its funding needs.

Much of the housing along the Atlanta BeltLine is anything but affordable. Tax values on these homes, located at Irwin Place, near the Krog Street Market, rose by 63 percent to $624,200 before prices were adjusted in 2017 by Fulton County tax officials. File/Credit: David Pendered

It is noteworthy that the streetcar has been unquestioned given from the very beginning. The BeltLine has given no consideration for a truly multimodal, citywide transit system, which now MARTA and hopefully the city’s new transportation plan should address. Any future planning must take into account the impacts of major shifts in travel technologies and behaviors, now well underway. And these studies should certainly review the viability, feasibility, desirability, serviceability, and capital and operating costs of the BeltLine’s clinging to streetcars as the city’s only transit option. The need for these studies is daily underscored by development investment and settlement patterns that overwhelmingly favor Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead, and increasingly the East side and airport areas, where transit needs are and will be highest.

Indeed, it has been reported that MARTA is planning a big boost in service to the high intensity corridor from its Arts Center Station through Midtown and Downtown to the Turner Field redevelopment area and the long under-served neighborhoods nearby. Reflecting basic transit planning principles and commonsense, MARTA will build a bus rapid transit (BRT) system that is certain to generate high ridership, provide real travel options, and reduce auto congestion. Its cost will be about $5 million per mile, or 1/20th of what a streetcar would cost.

The point of this discussion is to challenge whether hewing to its ever-dimming prospects for actually building and somehow operating streetcars is the best use of BeltLine resources. Instead, perhaps it’s time for the BeltLine and the rest of us to get real about the streetcar component of its program and redirect real money to meeting the real housing needs of thousands of Atlanta families.

If, for example, over its 12 remaining years the BeltLine were to commit just half of that $1.6 billion first phase streetcar program cost to housing, again using conventional rules of thumb to make rough approximations, the funds could build about 4,600 units, thus meeting at least one of the BeltLine’s stated goals. It could then join wholeheartedly into the challenge of housing all of Atlanta’s people and particularly those with limited means. Worthy of a celebration!

Note to readers: Mike Dobbins’ work at Georgia Tech focuses on urban design and planning. Dobbins previously served as Atlanta’s commissioner of the Department of Planning, Development, and Neighborhood Conservation.

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