The ACC Commission is set to approve two affordable housing developments in December – one built by Habitat for Humanity that will provide 63 single-family homes and another guided by the Athens Housing Authority that will construct 192 apartments.
As such, next month is shaping up to be the commission’s most significant meeting for affordable housing since they approved the North Downtown Athens project in 2019. Also on their agenda is a stormwater fee increase, a leasing policy update and a non-profit capacity building program.
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Affordable housing is on the way
The ACC Commission is sometimes criticized for not doing enough to solve the problem of affordable housing, despite the amount of discussion and work they’ve done on the issue over the past few years.
The number of affordable units that have started construction in Athens since 2019 is miniscule considering the immense scale of the problem. The commission has also refused to take action on some low-hanging fruit that could help, like removing square footage restrictions on new homes, allowing duplexes and quadplexes, allowing accessory dwelling units and similar policies.
Making matters worse, the positive things the commission has done, such as adopting an inclusionary zoning ordinance, haven’t helped nearly as much as they had hoped, if at all. This makes the commission an understandable target of outrage for those displaced as the housing crisis continues to worsen.
Fortunately, there are two developments on the commission’s agenda this month that could help turn things around over the long-term.
Micah’s Creek is a planned development designed by Habitat for Humanity that envisions 63 new affordable homes of varying sizes which will be close to downtown, transit-accessible and right on the Firefly Trail. These single-family homes will come in three varieties: tiny (350 – 600 square feet), “kinda tiny” (550 – 800 square feet) and a more typical home size for larger families (1,000 – 1,600 square feet).
These smaller homes will naturally be more affordable than larger ones. They will also be extremely energy efficient to help families reduce their monthly expenses. Furthermore, Habitat will make the homes available only to families making below 80% of the area median income, with a preference for those under 60%. These families will receive zero-interest loans to purchase the properties, giving them an incredible opportunity to build generational wealth.
To top it off, the Micah’s Creek project includes a research component. In partnership with Habitat, researchers from UGA will study Micah’s Creek residents to determine the effects of stable housing and homeownership on educational attainment for children living in the community.
“What I would expect to find is that having access to affordable homeownership…is going to lead to a better quality of life and better social outcomes in terms of health, education, perhaps earnings. I think we’ll see an array of positive impacts,” said Kimberly Skobba, UGA Professor of Financial Planning, Housing and Consumer Economics in a promotional video.
Some nearby residents worry that the planned Micah’s Creek community is too dense and may bring excessive traffic to the area. Nevertheless, commissioners praised the development at last Thursday’s meeting.
“I grew up in this area… [this] is a commissioner’s dream, my dream,” said Commissioner Tiffany Taylor. “It gives families hope that they will have a home of their own that they can own, and so I am very excited about this development.”
“In a community like this [which is transit-accessible], the hope is that very few families will need more than one vehicle,” said Commissioner Melissa Link. “I think there is a real holistic and natural vision for this neighborhood. I’m really grateful to Habitat for moving it forward.”
Later in the meeting, Mayor Kelly Girtz announced a second affordable development that wasn’t previously on the agenda but also has a huge potential to help Athens’ housing situation.
The Athens Housing Authority is working with a company called BH Athens to build affordable apartments near the “Space” Kroger at the intersection of Southwell Road and Hull Road. It’s dubbed “Athens Flats” and will provide 300 beds in 192 affordable apartments designed for people making under 60% of the area median income.
“I’m excited,” said Commissioner Patrick Davenport. “Very excited.”
The agenda item has yet to be posted, so APN doesn’t know much about the details. We’ll keep you updated as more information becomes available.
Unified leasing policy update
The local government is updating their leasing policy to make it more equitable across the board, even if the new policy may cause a burden for some nonprofits.
The ACC government owns several properties around town that it leases out to various nonprofits and other agencies. In the past, different agencies have negotiated with the local government separately, resulting in a fragmented and inequitable leasing policy. Some nonprofits (often those run by white people) have been able to gain exceptional deals, such as yearly $1 rents, while others (often those run by Black people) have had to pay near-market rents.
In recent years, the commission has tried to right the situation by offering the same generous rent terms to an expanded group of nonprofits. This has worked for a while, allowing time for the commission’s Government Operations Committee to find a more permanent solution.
That solution has finally arrived with the current unified leasing policy update.
After this greatly simplified policy passes next month, nonprofits will pay a flat, below-market rate anywhere from $3,600 a year to $36,000 a year, based on square footage. Rent can be abated partially or in-full if tenants are willing to make significant capital improvements to the properties, but the flat rate will apply in most cases going forward.
For-profit institutions will pay full, market rate. Quasi-governmental institutions and actual governmental institutions such as the ACC Library will negotiate lease terms with the ACC Manager on a case-by-case basis.
Some nonprofits will be able to enjoy their generous rents for a little longer. For example, the East Athens Health Center will keep their $1 a year rent through 2042 in exchange for $1 million in capital investment. But most will have to pay significantly more starting next year. For example, Historic Athens will need to start paying $6,000 a year, up from $1 a year, if they want to remain in the historic fire hall on Prince Avenue.
Nonprofit capacity-building program
The commission is set to approve five nonprofits for a new year-long nonprofit capacity-building program starting next year. If approved next month, the participants will include Juvenile Offenders Advocate, Encourage H.E.R Academy, Farm to Neighborhood Foundation, About Face International and Destined.
The idea is to help local nonprofits doing good work in the community to become more competitive for government funds in the future, even if they can’t afford to hire a professional grant writer. Priority for this program was given to “Black, Indigenous and/or People of Color (BIPOC), LGBTQ+ and other community‐led groups which have been systematically denied a full opportunity to participate in aspects of economic, social, and civic life,” according to the commission’s agenda item.
Each of the five participants will receive a $40,000 grant to help fund their operations. The total cost of the program is $250,000, paid for out of the American Rescue Plan.