The Brookhaven Affordable Housing Task Force made its recommendations to the City Council July 25, with the chairperson saying he hopes they “become part of the DNA of the city of Brookhaven.”

David Schaefer, chair of the Affordable Housing Task Force, presents recommendations to the City Council July 25. (Dyana Bagby)

“In so far as possible, we wanted to make sure the recommendations that flow forth from this Task Force become part of the DNA of the city of Brookhaven,” said David Schaefer, the chair of the Task Force and the Director of Advocacy at the Latin American Association located on Buford Highway in Brookhaven.

“We didn’t think it would be possible for it to rest in any particular ordinance, or in any particular set of rules, but we wanted to make sure it became part of the culture of how we think as a city, how we value diversity, how we think about our people and how we cherish the people at the very heart of the conversation,” Schaefer said.

The Task Force was formed last September after community faith leaders approached the City Council with their concerns of residents being priced out of their homes due to the city’s rapid development. Many of those being displaced live in apartment complexes along and near Buford Highway, where a majority Latino population resides. The 13-member Task Force started meeting last October.

No hard specifics such as requiring developers to include a certain percentage of housing units be defined as affordable are part of the recommendations, however, such as is currently being discussed in Sandy Springs. Schaefer said while this issue was discussed by the Task Force, members determined such specifics should be determined by city officials.

The recommendations do include such inclusionary zoning, Schaefer said. The city is currently undergoing a comprehensive zoning rewrite and the Task Force recommends the city consider an affordable housing requirement for high-density developments and adding a density bonus for developers exceeding requirements.

Recommendations to be included in the zoning rewrite also include exploring the use of impact fees and appropriate uses as incentives to encourage affordable housing units.

Other wide-ranging recommendations include such ideas as requiring developers to provide “affordability impact statements” as part of any rezoning and permitting process within the city that impacts residential and mixed-use development. The statement would quantify and provide a record of the proposed projects impact on the existing “affordable housing inventory” in the city.

The Task Force also recommends the city to work with “appropriate developers” and consider the purchasing and holding land during the permitting and zoning process to make affordable housing less expensive for developers. Another recommendation includes the city talking with the DeKalb County Land Bank Authority to identify potential land parcels that may be either used to develop new affordable projects or mixed-income projects or be used to establish a city housing trust.

The Task Force also suggests preserving current affordable housing, but Schaefer said members recognized most of the city’s affordable housing — mostly older apartment complexes — are not likely to be rehabilitated by property owners.

Councilmember Joe Gebbia, who represents District 4 including residents living and working on Buford Highway, noted that for years he has tried to come up with a contingency plan for residents displaced when an apartment complex is torn down for new development, such as what is now happening with the Park Villa complex. 

“You and I go back a long way on this,” Gebbia said to Schaefer. “This [displacement at apartment complex] will probably happen again … the probability is very high. We’ve failed to come up with a good strategic plan. .. This part about preserving … affordable housing is what we were trying to do back then. I’m not sure about the reality.”

“We largely concluded that affordable housing is Class C [likely located in lower-income area with residences that are 30 years old or more] or below,” Shaefer said. “Nevertheless, we could see the possibility of us missing something in the inventory. We wanted to make sure this is an option.”

Gebbia also asked about the reality of being able to land bank property in the city. However, much of the propery DeKalb County owns in the city is located on floodplains and not suitable for development, according to city officials.

“There is not a lot of available land in Brookhaven,” Schaefer acknowledged. “The big issue is that to put something new in, something old has to go away. This is the ongoing challenge for Brookhaven and why we need to be innovative.”

One of the challenges for development in Brookhaven is the profitability, Schaefer added. “Affordable housing is not a money-maker,” he said. A shortage of land contributes to developers wanting to make the most money possible of their property, but the city can possibly find ways to “incentivize” developers to build affordable housing.

The City Council and Schaefer and the Task Force all recognize affordable housing is not an issue affecting only Brookhaven, but also the city of Atlanta as well as the entire nation and will be part of an ongoing conversation.

“This [Task Force recommendations] is obviously just the end of the first sentence of a very long story,” Mayor John Ernst said.

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.