Atlanta Floats Idea of $100 million Affordable Housing Bond

Decade after decade, the city of Atlanta, Georgia has dealt with an increase in their homeless population, as well as issues in offering affordable housing to their growing population. It’s one of America’s major cities, and has over time become a scary reminder of the dividing line between the haves and have-nots, as the industrial, business side of the city is flourishing, while the underclasses are struggling more and more.

To help quell these issues and to offer relief, Atlanta City Council members decided earlier this week that they would spend the next two weeks plotting out a bill, a way that they can divert $100 million of funding into affordable houses, which Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has been asking for since her term began.

Mayor Bottoms went beyond merely asking for such funding to be appropriated for affordable housing; she signed an executive order on February 17, issuing a bond that would, by decree, take $100 million from the $1 billion Housing Opportunity Bond Fund to put directly into use for the city’s population.

Proposals Prove Difficult to Grant

Even though the city’s Mayor signed an executive order, that does not mean that money just suddenly appears in some fund whereby the city can begin offering affordable housing. This has to be a political issue that’s mulled over and kicked around, until which point appropriate measures are found for locating, diverting and using the money. Which is why legislation to issue the bond is currently being discussed, with an estimated timeline of two weeks to address the issue.

To date, nothing has been voted on; only an executive order signed. So this will roll over until the committee’s March 10 meeting, where Councilman Matt Westmoreland ensures that a vote will take place, if only because it needs to take place sooner rather than later.

Proposed Ideas for Funding Distribution

With $100 million on the table, it’s not necessarily the amount of money spent so much as how it’s spent. For instance, as the entire nation witnessed with the stimulus package under President Barack Obama, billions of dollars of that package had no effect overall on our economy, as it was government-backed guaranteed loans for alternative energy companies who misappropriated the funds and ultimately failed, so the money was lost. Mayor Bottoms and the Council are very aware of this, so their concerns are placed on how the money will be directed, which is why it’s a lengthier process.

The Council has quite a few ideas on how these funds could be distributed, however, including funding multifamily loans for low-income families, and also by offering down payment assistance for people with bad credit and no savings, yet who are gainfully employed and can afford a moderate mortgage. Other ideas on how to spend the money also include rehabilitation efforts for people who do have a home, in order to increase equity and their worth.

Westmoreland claimed that he needs to be “really focused on making sure that we’re assembling the land that will be needed,” as to ensure that new housing can also be built, which the Council estimates would be a lot cheaper than renovating run-down houses that are vacant or condemned.

This proposal for $100 million is a tenth of the $1 billion budget that Mayor Bottoms laid out last year, in order to fill the coffers of the Housing Opportunity Bond for the entire city. To date, however, that money hangs in limbo, as it has not yet been decided how or where the money would be most effectively spent.

Statewide, Georgia has a housing shortage of over 200,000 homes, much of that shortage in Atlanta, where families below the poverty line are simply incapable of becoming homeowners in the current economy.

Another issue in ironing out these details is that the $100 million executive order from Bottoms is the first time the city has done something that was directly attributable to debt, not money that’s actually available. This adds more complications to funding, and will add more time until a possible resolution can be reached, as to where and how to spend the money. The good news is that the funds can be allocated directly from the $1 billion former bond, technically speaking, though red tape still persists.

Overall, Mayor Bottoms has made many strides in her short tenure to help the impoverished class of Atlanta. However, the application and distribution of resources is tangible and needs to be practical, whereas signing executive orders and claiming to want change are easier accomplished. The city is fighting hard to find a balance.

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