A Philanthropic Lift For Deep Affordability For Residents Of Historic Westside Neighborhoods

By Westside Future Fund President & CEO John Ahmann for Historic Westside Thought Leadership on SaportaReport

Last week, WFF celebrated three big wins: a milestone $5M gift from the SunTrust Foundation, Invest Atlanta’s award of 4 multi-family properties to WFF, and the extraordinary success of the Beloved Benefit fundraiser, which raised more than $5M for Westside community partners. These wins show that we can deliver more deep affordability for residents of the Historic Westside neighborhoods served by the Westside Future Fund (WFF) through the Power of We.”  I am grateful to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for her commitment of $1 billion for anti-displacement/affordable housing, half philanthropic and half public funds, which helped to set these wins in motion.

Milestone Gift from SunTrust Foundation

On behalf of WFF, and along with Mayor Bottoms, WFF Board Chair Richard Dugas, Jr., and Chair-Elect Dr. Beverly Tatum, I was honored to accept a $5 million philanthropic contribution from the SunTrust Foundation, presented by its Chairman/CEO Bill Rogers.  $3 million will go directly to support deeply affordable housing, defined as 50% AMI or less.

A quick primer on “AMI.”  According to the2018 HUD Income Limits as reported by Invest Atlanta, the Atlanta Metropolitan Median Household Income (AMI) for a family of 4 is $74,800. 50% of 2018 AMI is $37,400. As a point of comparison, a full-time minimum wage worker in Georgia earns $7.25 an hour or $290 a week or approximately $14,500 annual (50 work weeks).  The income of an individual making $14,500 per year is just 19% AMI.

Partnership with Invest Atlanta

Invest Atlanta, chaired by Mayor Bottoms and led by President/CEO Dr. Eloisa Klementich, awarded 4 multi-family properties to WFF that will ultimately deliver 36 units for a ground lease of $1 per year.  We are grateful for the contributed land and building costs which will enable WFF to maximize the philanthropic dollars we have raised to deliver deep affordability. Invest Atlanta originally purchased the dilapidated and vacant properties with Westside TAD dollars as part of its blight remediation program.  Against a total estimated development cost of $5.6 million, WFF is committing $4.4 million of philanthropy that we have raised toguarantee for 50% of the total units at 50% AMI and 25% of the units at 60-70% AMI, with the remaining 25% affordable at 60%+ AMI at rents that will never increase to more than the current tenant can afford. A special thanks to the Mayor’s Chief Housing Officer, Terri Lee for her leadership creating this win-win partnership.

Beloved Benefit Unites Atlanta in Support of the Historic Westside

WFF was one of five beneficiaries of the “Beloved Benefit” held last Thursday, March 21.  This was a spectacular event bringing Atlanta together on behalf of the Westside.  Thanks to Chick-fil-A and the Mercedes-Benz Stadium (part of the AMB Group) who together covered all the event costs, all of the proceeds raised are going to the five beneficiaries. 10 “Community Beacons” announced at the event will also receive $25,000 each.  At the end of the evening, Rodney Bullard, executive director of the Chick-fil-A Foundation and lead volunteer Shan Cooper announced $5.3 million had been raised. All proceeds received by WFF will go to anti-displacement, affordable housing and neighborhood beautification opportunities prioritizing legacy residents.

Special thanks to the event Honorary Chairs Arthur M. Blank, Dan T. Cathy, Reverend Bernice A. King and, Ambassador Andrew J. Young.  Always a living example of great hospitality and service, Chick-fil-A Chairman/CEO Dan Cathy (besides participating in the program) was out on the floor ensuring all guests felt welcomed.

At the SunTrust announcement last week, I shared that on October 11, 2017, then-mayoral candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms was standing just 0.8 miles away from the WFF’s offices (co-located on the City of Refuge campus) when she announced a historic commitment of $1 billion to affordable housing in front of her family home on Burbank Drive. Because of her family legacy on the Westside and commitment to the low-income wage earner and retired seniors, then Atlanta City Council member Keisha Lance Bottoms had been studying and tracking the work of WFF. She was present at the original announcement of the Anti-Tax Displacement Fund and as a Council member, created the City’s “First Displacement Free Zone.”  Familiar with the math of rising land costs as a City Council member, Mayor Bottoms understood that subsidies are critical parts of the equation to deliver deeply affordable housing.  Given private property rights enshrined in the U.S. and Georgia constitutions, you cannot regulate your way to deeply affordable housing.

I have heard for-profit developers say that they cannot profitably develop units renting below 60% AMI due to increasing land and building costs in the City.  Hence, the City’s BeltLine Inclusionary Zoning specifies that developers who are building 10 or more new residential units must set aside at least 10% of the units for households earning 60% AMI or less, or 15% for households earning 80% AMI or less.  Note the small percentage of units required to meet this threshold. The rest are “market rate.” This affordable housing zoning overlays were also incorporated into the Westside Land Use Framework Plan passed by Atlanta City Council.

While a considerable step forward, if we just relied on this zoning overlay, most of the renters in the Historic Westside neighborhoods would be displaced as private developers/landowners raised rents and/or converted a single family rental into an owner-occupied single family.  As Mayor Bottoms stated in her January 2, 2018, Inaugural Address at the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel, “We cannot stand by and watch prosperity for some push others out of the City and strand them on the margins of society.”

Last Monday, March 18, I was grateful for our City’s private and public leadership that helped support Bryanna Elkin and her two children.  Ms. Elkin, who works full-time for Walmart, had been homeless after the children’s father left and she could not afford her housing. Thanks to a partnership with Chris 180, Ms. Elkin is now living in WFF’s first developed/occupied multi-family in English Avenue.  She and her children are within walking distance of the At-Promise Center.  Check out the WSB story by evening anchor Wendy Corona last November.  Ms. Elkin also has recently enrolled in the GED program. Her goal is a higher wage job that supports independent living and life on her own, hopefully in her own home.  She will have access to job training at Westside Works or the Workforce Innovation Hub at the City of Refuge.  Her children can attend the Hollis Innovation Academy, where WFF is helping support a partnership led by its outstanding principal Dr. Diamond Fort that is delivering higher education outcomes.

One brick at a time we are building a community Dr. King would be proud to call home.  We have many more bricks to go but last week was a great week, and the arc may be long, but it is bending in the right direction.

Featured Image Left to right: John Ahmann, President & CEO of Westside Future Fund; Bill Rogers, Chairman & CEO of SunTrust and SunTrust Foundation Chairman of the Board; Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; Dr. Beverly Tatum, Chair-Elect of Westside Future Fund Board of Directors; Richard Dugas, Chairman of Westside Future Fund Board of Directors