We all know affordable housing is an issue in Athens. Salaries are low, housing prices are very high relative to them, and the problem only seems to be getting worse. But what do we do about it? A4E’s Housing Initiative has been meeting monthly and working on trying to build solutions in a sustainable way.
How Does the Housing Initiative Work?
Claire Bolton and Broderick Flanigan, who head up the Housing Initiative, have focused first and foremost on base-building. What does that mean?
- Inviting leadership from individuals who work or live in Athens neighborhoods most impacted by housing discrimination.
- Working closely with existing/emerging housing-related groups in communities of color, including material ($) or logistical support.
- Building vocal support for pro-black housing policy in Athens (for example, public statements, showing up to City Hall).
- Building a crucial knowledge base for informing policy ideas, based on the idea that the knowledge we need to make good policy comes not only from abstract research, but from community spaces in which many people are impacted by housing discrimination and related issues.
Attacking the problem this way builds support for good ideas that actually help the people who need affordable housing, rather than taking a top-down approach that may create unfeasible solutions. Some examples include starting neighborhood associations in historically underserved areas, building relationships with real estate professionals who are dedicated to racial justice and affordable housing, as well as regular meetings with affected groups. Affordable housing is a large, complex and difficult issue to solve, but we can do it if we work together.
Base-building makes up about three quarters of the initiative’s time. The other 25 percent goes to policy. For example:
- Doing the more abstract research on things like the implications/implementation of the policy ideas currently on our platform, the current state of housing and community development policy in Athens and historic racial disparities around housing in Athens.
- Working with A4E’s Policy & Elections Committee to shape elected officials’ policy agendas.
- Keeping on top of policy developments through attending public meetings and other monitoring activities
Housing is first and foremost a racial justice issue. A history of anti-Black segregation and dispossession fosters inequity that can be seen in Athens’ schools, job market, health care system and other vital institutions. These issues have affected nearly every city in the United States, and we can make changes here that influence the rest of the country. The Housing Initiative’s identified priorities are: housing affordability, anti-discrimination efforts and the “right to stay put” in gentrifying neighborhoods.
Preserving, Rehabilitating and Building Affordable Housing
A crucial part of keeping cities affordable is building more affordable housing. Doing so is expensive and must be subsidized, but federal (HUD) subsidies are low. We need to identify funding and policy mechanisms that can increase the supply of affordable housing in Athens.
We should be advocating for:
- Securing additional, annual, permanent funding from Athens-Clarke County’s General Fund for the Housing Production Trust Fund. Like most US cities, Athens receives insufficient federal funding from HUD for housing and community development. We need to work with local government to identify permanent funding streams for the existing housing trust fund.
- Carefully implemented infill development in multifamily (typically minority) neighborhoods. Infill development ordinances allow for developing vacant or under-used land in built-up areas. We could work toward implementing a program like Miami-Dade County’s Infill Housing Program in which “Every dwelling unit developed through the Infill Housing Program must be sold to a very-low, low- or moderate-income household to be used as their primary residence.”
Gentrification is a race issue. As historically Black in-town neighborhoods become unaffordable, low-income residents are pushed out to Athens’ periphery and beyond. Gentrification is not integration if residents of color cannot stay in their homes. We must intervene with policy to make in-town Athens affordable and help people stay in their homes.
We should be advocating for:
- Affordable housing overlay districts with specific policy, zoning and design guidelines oriented to affordable housing in neighborhoods at risk of gentrification (such as West Hancock and East Athens). This includes requiring and/or incentivizing inclusionary zoning for rental and condominium development.
- Property tax abatement for seniors in neighborhoods at risk of gentrification.
- Re-zoning for racial justice: minority neighborhoods such as West Hancock, East Athens and the Hawthorne corridor should have similar zoning to the majority-white Prince Ave. corridor. Downzoning gives local government a bargaining chip to use for any new development plans.
- Having the local government buy parcels of land in neighborhoods vulnerable to gentrification (such as those surrounding the Greenway and Firefly Trail) and designate them for affordable housing and other forms of accessible development.
Housing Stability and Tenants’ Rights
All Athenians deserve stable housing. Displacement pressures are rising for public housing and Section 8 tenants in in-town neighborhoods, many of whom are Black and Hispanic. These tenants must be able to stay in their homes. Athenians must do everything we can to protect and maintain in-town public and Section 8 housing.
We should oppose:
- Displacement of any residents if mixed-income redevelopment of Rocksprings, Broadacres, Parkview, Bethel Homes or any other public or private low-income housing complex in Athens occurs. In the case of mixed-income redevelopment, the bare minimum package for displaced residents must include: more than 1-for-1 replacement of subsidized or low-income units; guaranteed right of return for every resident; full funding of all moving expenses and minimal disruption of neighborhood life by redeveloping fewer than 10 units at a time in garden-style complexes.
We should also be supporting neighborhood organization efforts in historically marginalized neighborhoods, including homeowner, homebuyer and tenant educational programming.
Other Key Issues
- Fostering a culture of affordable housing among the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission. Every proposed new development should raise the question of what can this developer do to a) increase the stock of affordable housing and b) avoid displacement of low-income Athenians.
- Repealing the single family ordinance.
- Investigating housing value discrimination in predominantly Black neighborhoods.
- Comprehensive re-zoning for racial justice, where it applies outside of the cases discussed above.
- Advocating for permanent housing for Athens’ homeless population, including those living in tent cities.
- Providing a mechanism or incentive for a progressive property tax on residential property.
This isn’t a fight that’s going to be won overnight, but we believe we can win it, especially with your help. The A4E Housing Initiative meets monthly, and we post Facebook events for those meetings, which are usually in the early evening on weekdays. To get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org