Building a Legacy: WFF’s Chief Real Estate Officer Discusses the Future of Affordable Housing in Atlanta’s Historic Westside

In August of 2023, Westside Future Fund (WFF) launched its Our Next Chapter campaign. The campaign has a goal to pair philanthropic dollars with capital from its Impact Fund and the addition of public grants to complete its housing targets. This includes:

  • 285 multifamily units, of which 185 will serve families at 60% Area Median Income (AMI) and less
  • 225 single-family homes with accompanying income-qualified down-payment assistance, and
  • Supporting the Anti-Displacement Tax Fund to help legacy resident homeowners stay in the community

As the year comes to a close, WFF’s Chief Real Estate Officer Rachel Carey shares what is on the horizon in the organization’s plans for the future of high-quality affordable housing in the Historic Westside.

Can you talk about how much of the groundwork for this has already begun and what projects the community will start to see underway in 2024?

We have been working toward these goals for years — since 2018 when we started acquiring properties. Since then, we have rehabbed eight apartment buildings and have built or rehabbed over 20 homes. We have already been working on the planning and design of several of the projects included in the Our Next Chapter campaign and will be starting some this year. One that I’m really excited about is the renovation of the Yellow Store at the intersection of James P. Brawley and Cameron Alexander Boulevard. Seeing this beautiful and historic building put back in service for the community is something we have been looking forward to for a long time.

Can you provide insights into the specific multifamily properties set to open in 2024, and how they align with WFF’s goals for equitable neighborhood revitalization?

In the beginning of 2024, we will be opening up 588 and 592 Paines Avenue, the last of our apartment rehabs. The 12 units will all have rents at 60% AMI or less, with 8 of them offering HomeFlex from Atlanta Housing. Then for the rest of 2024, we will be working on building three new apartment buildings totaling another 83 multifamily units. In all of our properties, we have a high percentage (at least 50%) of the apartments reserved for families at 60% AMI or less. We strive to build high-quality homes that are also in alignment with the Land Use Framework Plan and its design guidelines. That means preserving existing buildings with good bones, like 588-592 Paines, to honor the historic fabric of the neighborhoods, and designing new buildings with the look and feel that the community has said they want.

Building single-family homes is a crucial aspect of community development. How does the WFF plan to address affordability and inclusivity while balancing the economic challenges taking place in the U.S. such as inflation?

We know that increasing homeownership in the neighborhoods, particularly in English Avenue, is an important goal. And for us, ensuring that the homes are affordable to purchasers who meet our legacy guidelines is exceptionally important. We do this by selling at or below our cost to build them, providing down payment assistance to income-eligible purchasers, and marketing in the community to identify and work with our purchasers to meet their needs. It can be very difficult to buy a home these days, with high home prices and the highest interest rates in over 20 years. If you can’t make an all-cash offer or close quickly, you are likely to lose out on a home. I’m proud that we don’t work that way. We are intentional about selling homes to people who have ties to the community and being a patient partner in the purchasing process. And then, it feels like a real celebration when we get to sit at the closing table with someone who is thrilled to buy their first home and to be a new homeowner investing in the community.

WFF just celebrated a groundbreaking for a mixed-use development at 839 Joseph E. Boone, which will include 33 units of multifamily and 1200 square feet of retail space. It’s just one of many more exciting projects underway for the organization. Do you anticipate breaking ground on any more developments in 2024?

Yes, we do! We have two more new projects on Echo Street and Sunset Avenue that will be breaking ground in mid-2024. We are really excited to get these started—we’ve been working on them for a long time!

When WFF launched in 2014 the need to ensure affordable housing was clear but the approach to achieving that goal has taken some time to develop. What would you say are some key learnings from a real estate acquisition and development perspective, nearly a decade into this work?

A few big learnings. One is, if you don’t control the land you don’t control the outcome — this is what led us to begin acquiring property, which was not necessarily the plan when we started in 2014. Second is that partnership is everything. Our partnerships with the City, Invest Atlanta, Atlanta Housing, and other non-profit builders and developers are what enable us to deliver against our goals. Third is that you can’t do it all on your own. We are always tracking the collective progress in the neighborhoods — from projects by Quest, Integral, oaksATL, and others — it is through the sustained efforts of many that true impact is achieved.

Looking ahead to 2024, what challenges and opportunities do you anticipate, particularly in managing the diverse portfolio of multifamily properties, single-family homes, and special development projects on Atlanta’s historic Westside?

It is always a challenge to be operating on all fronts. Every single member of the WFF team is incredibly dedicated to ensuring that we are able to execute with excellence on all of these initiatives. I am excited to work with our team and all of our partners, to continue advancing plans for the campaign build-out. I look forward to sharing our plans with the community, to asking for their feedback and engagement as we progress, and to collaboratively problem-solve to keep moving the mission forward.