Brookhaven is the first city in metro Atlanta to adopt a mandatory citywide inclusionary zoning ordinance as one way to tackle housing affordability. The new regulation is being praised by an Atlanta city councilmember who is working to create regional affordable housing policy guidelines, but is also being knocked by building professionals who say a mandate could hurt future development efforts.

The City Council adopted its new zoning code at its Nov. 27 meeting that states when a special land use permit or rezoning is approved anywhere in the city for a multi-unit residential housing project, then 10 percent of the residential units must be defined as workforce housing. Residential housing projects include new construction, rehabilitation of a current apartment building or converting apartments to condominiums and can be built out in phases. The inclusionary zoning was first sought just along Buford Highway, but the Planning Commission asked the City Council to consider it citywide.

Councilmember Bates Mattison voted against the zoning code because of its workforce housing mandate. He suggested creating a housing authority or looking at tax abatements for developers as ways to encourage more affordable housing in the city, saying the city’s zoning code was not the proper place to address affordable housing issues.

“I do not believe the plan we have is a realistic solution for the city of Brookhaven,” he said.

Councilmember Linley Jones agreed Brookhaven has not yet reached a final conclusion on how best to address the affordable housing crisis being felt across the country. But the city has delved into the issue extensively, she said, including the appointment of an Affordable Housing Task Force that studied the issue over several months last year.

“I believe what we have is an answer. A darned good answer,” she said, adding it was “better than nothing at all.”

Councilmember John Park recalled how the Affordable Housing Task Force asked the city to consider affordable housing as part of the city’s DNA. “It needs to be part of everything we do as a city,” he said. “This is one step.”

Atlanta City Councilmember Andre Dickens, who has been trying to create a regional coalition to tackle housing affordability, praised Brookhaven’s new policy.

“By passing this law, Brookhaven’s leadership is showing they have the best interest of all Brookhaven residents and businesses in mind today and for developments coming in the future,” he said in an email.

Dickens worked with others for three years to get the city of Atlanta to approve a mandatory inclusionary zoning policy for multifamily housing built within a half-mile of the Atlanta BeltLine. The policy, believed to be the first of its kind in Georgia, was approved last year and requires 15 percent of units be priced at rates affordable to middle- or moderate-income households. Talks of expanding the policy citywide and to include for-sale residences is under way.

“Their policy, along with the one I passed a year ago, demonstrates that housing challenges and solutions are often multi-jurisdictional,” Dickens said of Brookhaven’s new zoning requirements.

The Council for Quality Growth, a nonprofit organization that works with local governments on issues like zoning and economic development, as well as the Atlanta Commercial Board of Realtors and the Atlanta Apartment Association voiced opposition to Brookhaven’s mandatory inclusionary zoning. They said such a requirement could infringe on property owners’ rights and could dissuade developers from wanting to build apartments in the city.

All three groups in letters to the council and in public statements suggested voluntary, incentive-based measures to developers as better options. Other ideas they suggested include tax abatements, land acquisition and rental rehabilitation incentives.

“While we are disappointed that the affordable housing provision fails to embrace non-mandatory, incentive-driven approaches, we appreciate that the city operated in a spirit of cooperation and transparency in all regards,” said Taylor Morison, director of Policy and Government Affairs for the Council of Quality Growth, in a written statement.

Incentives offered in Buford Highway, Peachtree overlays

The inclusionary zoning does provide incentives for multi-unit developments in the new Buford Highway Overlay District and in the Peachtree Overlay District.

A developer is granted one bonus story of building height for each 10 percent of workforce housing over the 10 percent mandatory minimum in the Buford Highway Overlay. For example, if the developer agrees to set aside 20 percent of units for workforce housing, the developer can build one additional story. Building heights within the Buford Highway Overlay vary according to zoning classification.

In the Peachtree Overlay District, which includes Peachtree Road and Dresden Drive, developers are granted one additional story of building height for every 20 percent of units set aside for workforce housing.

Buildings along Peachtree Road have a height limit of 6 stories as part of the recently approved Peachtree Overlay District. Along Dresden Drive, there is a 4-story maximum, and where the Brookhaven-Oglethorpe MARTA station is located, the maximum height is 12 stories. All can be increased if granted a special land use permit by the city.

The reason for the different percentages in the Buford Highway Overlay and the Peachtree Overlay is because the city wants more affordable housing components on Buford Highway where more redevelopment is expected, said Deputy Development Director Linda Abaray.

Developers granted a height bonus for workforce housing units are required to make sure the units remain workforce housing for 20 years, either through deed restrictions or other binding agreement approved by the city attorney.

The city is defining workforce housing as rental or for-sale units that are affordable to households earning no more than 80 percent of the median household income for metro Atlanta as determined by the federal and Housing Urban Development income limit table.

According to the HUD table for 2018, the metro Atlanta median household income, known as AMI, is $74,781. Eighty percent of the AMI for a four-person household is $59,850; for a one-person household it is $41,900.

The general rule currently accepted by many housing experts is that no more than 30 percent of a household’s income should be spent on housing. Thirty percent of $59,850 is just under $18,000 a year on housing, or $1,500 a month in rent; for a one-person household, monthly rent is $1,047.50.

Deanna Parker, executive director of Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, an advocacy organization for those living in apartments on Buford Highway, thanked the mayor and City Council for taking steps to ensure equitable housing development in the city. She shared how she lived with her family in a Brookhaven apartment complex on Buford Highway for 15 years. Then three years ago a developer purchased the complex and she and her family were given a month to move out.

She urged the council to find ways to preserve the affordable housing that already exists along Buford Highway and asked them to also find ways to preserve housing for the single mothers making less than $25,000 a year who are a “significant population in the city.”

Dyana Bagby

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