Sandy Springs officials are holding private meetings with many groups to create an affordable housing policy that could benefit low-income residents, according to Mayor Rusty Paul and City Councilmember Ken Dishman.
But details are slim, no draft policy has emerged, and two of the organizations cited as participants say they have not discussed affordable housing with the city in at least a year. Meanwhile, the city’s draft zoning code, set for approval this summer, contains an incentive to tear down apartment complexes currently affordable to low-income people and replace them with market-rate and middle-income “workforce” housing.
The mayor revealed the behind-the-scenes policy-making at the April 18 City Council meeting, apparently in response to a Sandy Springs Reporter article about the workforce housing incentive and rent increases that are pricing people out of older apartment complexes.
While acknowledging the facts were accurate, the mayor said he was “a little disturbed” by reports that the city has no policy to directly support lower-income housing and the “lack of understanding of how much work is going on.”
Paul said he and Dishman are holding private meetings with a wide variety of residents, churches and organizations about affordable housing, and said that in retrospect, he should have better publicized that effort.
In later comments provide through city spokesperson Sharon Kraun, the mayor offered few details about the meetings and did not respond to a request to name specific participants.
“I’ve talked many times about the need for workforce housing, going back to my inaugural address [in 2014], so it should not be a surprise that I am meeting with experts and citizens to discuss how that can be accomplished,” the mayor said in the written statement. “Those conversations have revolved around options that would create a mix of housing affordable to a broad spectrum of people. None have yet led to a set of policy options that we are ready to act upon, but the quest continues.”
In other interviews about housing over the past 18 months, the mayor has not mentioned such behind-the-scenes planning and has generally described the city’s lower-income housing as doomed by market forces in the long term.
Dishman, whose district includes some of the apartment complexes on northern Roswell Road, offered a few more details. He said the discussions include the creation of low-income and mixed-income housing, both within the zoning code and in broader programs or policies.
“The city is exploring how we can implement economic incentives in our new zoning code to help ensure that affordable housing units are included in future redevelopment projects,” Dishman said in an email.
“In addition, the city is interested in collaborating with community members to proactively foster future development that accommodates a healthy mix of housing for all income levels and improves the quality of retail offerings in the district. Those collaborations are what the mayor referred to.”
Dishman said the city is “pretty much leaving no stone unturned” and cited “multiple conversations in progress with residents, apartment owners, governmental agencies such as Fulton and Sandy Springs Development Authorities, [the] Council for Quality Growth, business owners, real estate consultants, and developers, among others.”
But Al Nash, CEO of the Development Authority of Fulton County, said he is not involved in such conversations.
“We have not discussed this subject in any detail with the city,” Nash said. “I recall that we had a general catch-up meeting maybe a year ago with Mayor Paul, Councilman Dishman and others, where we discussed a variety of subjects. There was not any detailed discussion about affordable housing.”
James Touchton, the policy director at the Council for Quality Growth, a developers’ advocacy organization based in Sandy Springs, said he also has not participated in the discussions.
“I have not sat down and had a specific conversation with the mayor or Ken about affordable housing,” said Touchton, adding it he last had a formal meeting late last year with the officials about planning in general. “I’m just sitting back and waiting for when they approach us.”
He said the council also had no specific input or advance notice about the workforce housing incentive proposed in the draft zoning code.
Touchton said his group has advised Atlanta City Councilmember Andre Dickens on specific affordable housing policies, and he expects Sandy Springs officials eventually will offer similar detailed ideas.
“I’d rather they take their time,” he said. “I do think the mayor and [other city officials] really will come up with a great policy.”
Dishman said that, while conversations are underway, “none have reached a level of momentum where there’s anything to announce publicly yet. As the mayor said, these things tend to take more time than any of us would prefer, but that’s the nature of this animal.”