The city of Atlanta and MARTA are addressing their affordable housing issues in a major way, with each devoting up to $100 million in bonds or other funds to help provide homes for low- to middle-income individuals and families.

“10% was (originally) set aside just for nonprofits. There was a request to increase that, and it was increased to 15%,” Post 2 at-large Atlanta City Councilman Matt Westmoreland said of the city’s plan to issue the bonds, which was approved by the council at its Jan. 4 meeting after being amended following about two years of discussions between the mayor’s office and other stakeholders. “I’m very excited we are at this point. It was a long time coming.”

Westmoreland was among those who spoke on the issue during a Jan. 19 panel discussion and Q&A on affordable housing hosted by MARTA, the city of Atlanta and three other organizations, held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Westmoreland and Brian Prater, executive director of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, served as the panelists, and Odetta MacLeish-White, managing director of the TransFormation Alliance, was the moderator.

Under the city’s plan (Legislative Reference No. 20-O-1779), $50 million in bonds will be funded to create and preserve affordable housing in Atlanta, but another $50 million has been authorized for the program. JPMorgan Chase will partner with the city on the plan, providing “extremely low interest rates,” Westmoreland said.

MARTA’s plan, which was announced Jan. 5, separately calls for the transit agency to partner with Morgan Stanley and the National Equity Fund to establish the Greater Atlanta Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing Preservation Fund. The monies will back long-term preservation of affordable housing near MARTA rail stations by incentivizing and providing gap funding for owners and landlords of those homes.

According to a news release, in 2010 MARTA’s board adopted an affordable housing policy that mandates 20% of residential rental units at MARTA’s transit-oriented developments be affordable to individuals earning 60 to 80% of the metro Atlanta area media income (AMI) and for-sale units affordable to those making 80 to 100% of the AMI.

Since then MARTA has focused on bringing transit-oriented developments to all the stations where it’s possible. According to the release, it has built 114 housing units and has 153 under construction, 566 in negotiation and 900 planned, for a total of 1,730 throughout its system.

MARTA has completed 22 and 92 units at the Edgewood/Candler Park and Avondale station developments, respectively, with more under construction or planned at those stations and at the King Memorial and Kensington stations’ projects.

“We felt this effort that Morgan Stanley and National Equity Fund had a positive impact on those who live and work around those stations. We feel it will put us on a continued path from success,” Jacob Vallo, MARTA’s senior director of transit-oriented development and real estate, said at the panel discussion.

Prater said Morgan Stanley and the National Equity Fund have been helping create affordable housing through “a deep partnership that goes back decades,” with a proven track record of success.

“We want to make sure we’re creating tools to help mission-driven businesses,” he said. “We’ve done $460 million or so over each of the last two years. We’ve preserved 17,000 (affordable housing) units and secured $1.4 billion in financing.”

Scott Zeigler, the National Equity Fund’s fund manager, said their portfolio has about 100 properties in 20 states.

Westmoreland said the city’s latest financial commitment to affordable housing under Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is more than double of Kasim Reed’s administration ($45 million) and over triple of Shirley Franklin’s administration ($30 million).

During the Q&A portion of the event, MacLeish-White asked Westmoreland if the city’s plan was for all of Atlanta or just some parts.

In response, he said, “We want to have affordability of housing in all parts of the city, in all 12 council districts. … There are incoming guidelines. We made a concerted effort whether it’s owner-occupied rehab or multifamily or single-family development.

“(The program is for residents earning) 60% of the region’s median income or less. $10 million (is) to supplement the work that’s been done around our homeless population. The income levels for that bucket of money will be even lower. The intent is to drive this money to the residents who make 40, 50, 60% of median income.”

When asked when the funds would be disbursed, Westmoreland, “Soon, and I mean weeks. Invest Atlanta (the city’s investment arm) will be running point for us on this. They are coming to our council’s development/human services committee to present (the plan) to us at one of our February meetings.”

In a text following the panel and Q&A, Westmoreland said the meeting would be Feb. 9 or 23 but which date is not known yet.

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