Sandy Springs staff shared with the city council measures taken in response to the Diversity & Inclusion Task Force’s recommendations, including evaluating incentives for affordable housing and partnering with community nonprofit organizations to expand communications.

Assistant City Manager Kristin Byars Smith presented the council with an update at its work session on Nov. 2.

Housing recommendations and initiatives

The task force’s housing recommendations included using Community Development Block Grant funds to support workforce housing initiatives when Section 108 loan repayment is complete. The group recommended revisiting the city’s affordable housing incentive policy and to invest in expertise on housing and redevelopment. A housing policy study and a director of housing were suggested. The remaining affordable housing units were to be preserved and protected.

Byars Smith said the city’s Next Ten: 5-Year Work Program includes initiatives addressing those recommendations. Community members offered feedback as this plan was prepared, she said.

“The first step is evaluating options to enhance living conditions for our existing multifamily. Of course, this is where we have a lot of our naturally occurring, affordable housing and we want to make sure that those units are properly maintained for the residents that live there,” she said.

As affordable housing is a regional problem, the city will work with regional partners to develop policy solutions to encourage workforce and affordable housing. In 2023-2024 a housing policy study would evaluate local options. Also next year, the city would evaluate existing incentive programs, she said.

Improving Recreation communications

The task force’s Recreation Committee wanted stronger communications to promote the Recreation and Parks Department’s facilities and services.

The department has 23 partnerships from Art Sandy Springs to Sandy Springs Youth Sports that aid in spreading information about the city’s recreational programs, parks and other facilities, she said.

“Partnerships are really critical to the work that we do and it expands our reach into the community,” Byars Smith said.

This includes recreation advertising campaigns, she said.

“We share this with local schools, the local library, we promote it through our nonprofit partners, and through all of our channels,” she said. “So the newsletter, our website, social media, and of course, our digital signage. We will begin translating this into Spanish next year.”

Removing communications’ barriers

The task force wanted Sandy Springs to remove barriers preventing members of any race, ethnicity or marginalized community from connecting with civic life and city government.

Advertising at MARTA locations, setting up digital kiosks and publicizing the Sandy Springs Works app were among the suggested initiatives. Closed captioning of meetings and translations of key documents into “plain English” and Spanish also were suggested.

The city was encouraged to work with local news outlets to identify effective ways to distribute newspapers and make electronic media more accessible.

Sandy Springs also should ensure minority communities are aware of employment opportunities with the city.

Byars Smith said the city is fairly diverse, with 45 Hispanic or Latino, 13 Asian, and 155 Black employees out of the approximately 555 total employees.

“As you can see, we’re really proud to have a diverse group of staff working on behalf of the city in this community that we serve,” Byars Smith said.

The city has digital kiosks at City Hall and plans more signage and digital kiosks. Posters in English and Spanish are distributed to local businesses, and mailers with both languages are sent to apartment complexes already, she said. It also partners with local nonprofits and schools.

The city partnered with the Community Assistance Center to host a community meeting on the Roswell Road streetscape project at their Northwood drive location. The presentation was given in English and Spanish and the Q&A period was also accessible for both languages.

Future initiatives will include multi-lingual translation for official meetings. Digital kiosks will be installed at additional parks starting in 2023. The city also will evaluate opportunities to expand Spanish translation for key documents in 2024.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.