A wide-ranging group of representatives from public and private organizations have signed on to have a seat at the table on the Buckhead Community Improvement District’s forthcoming affordable housing study. The group, which includes MARTA, Atlanta Public Schools and major employers, will also help implement solutions suggested in the study.

The idea for the affordable housing study came out of findings released in the “Buckhead REdeFINED” master plan that was completed in 2017. The master plan reported that most traffic congestion results from Buckhead employees not being able to afford housing in the area. In 2016, 98 percent of Buckhead area employees commuted to Buckhead from outside the area, the master plan reported.

The Buckhead CID and Livable Buckhead released a request for proposals on May 4. Responses from firms interested in conducting the study are due June 14, according to the document. The study is being funded by a $90,000 grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission.

“Today, many employees lack attainable options to live near their place of employment. Their commutes contribute to traffic congestion in the Buckhead core,” the request for proposals said.

Sarah Kirsch, the executive director of the Urban Land Institute’s Atlanta branch. (Special)

The study will aim to study affordability through the angle of reducing traffic congestion, in part because that is the CID’s stated mission.

“This positioning is critical as it ensures the problem is viewed as relevant to everyone in the community,” the document said.

The study would take stock of the current Buckhead housing inventory and find opportunities for new housing, including vacant land, office-to-residential conversions and places to build affordable or mixed-income housing, according to the document. It would also define the demographic makeup of the Buckhead workforce and from where they commute so that strategies to reduce congestion can be implemented, the RFP said.

The study will be contracted through the CID, managed by Denise Starling, the executive director of Livable Buckhead and led by a project management team, a stakeholder committee and a technical advisory committee, the RFP said.

The project management team is planned to include the CID, Livable Buckhead and potentially the Buckhead Coalition, Buckhead Business Association and Buckhead Rotary, according to the RFP.

The steering committee, which would “ultimately become the task force that guides the implementation of the identified strategies and outcomes,” is planned to include representatives from a wide range of public and private sector organizations, according to the RFP.

Some of the members include Tim Keane, the city’s planning commissioner, who is listed as tentative; Sarah Kirsch, executive director of the Urban Land Institute’s Atlanta branch; Trish O’Connell of the Atlanta Housing Authority; Amanda Rhein, MARTA’s director of transit oriented development and real estate; and Rachel Sprecher, the Atlanta Public Schools director of partnerships and development.

“Our department has a vested interest in the state of affordable housing and ensuring its success within Atlanta,” said Keane in an email. “In order to propel the mayor’s vision forward, we must take the lead in identifying beautiful and affordable housing opportunities in all areas of the city.”

Two Atlanta City Council members who represent Buckhead are planned to serve on the steering committee: Howard Shook, who also serves on the CID board, and J.P. Matzigkeit.

Representatives from residential companies, law firms and the financial sector are also planned to serve on the committee. The CID wants to have a major employer, retailer, hotel owner and restaurant owner participate, but have not determined who they will be, according to the RFP.

Amanda Rhein, director of transit oriented development and real estate at MARTA. (Special)

Rhein said Buckhead has “great” transit access with three stations and bus service, but lacks affordable housing. Policymakers are increasingly using the combined cost of housing and transportation when considering if a community is affordable, she said in a written statement.

“MARTA appreciates that the Buckhead CID recognizes the relationship between housing affordability and transit,” Rhein said. “Including MARTA in the conversation is also important because MARTA provides access to opportunity, which is key to improving economic mobility for low-income households.”

Sprecher felt it was important to voice the school district’s perspective in discussions about affordable housing and transit in Buckhead, said APS spokesperson Latisha Gray in an email.

Kirsch said ULI, a nonprofit that researches land use, believes a better connection between housing, jobs and transit is needed to address affordability challenges.

“ULI Atlanta’s participation in the Buckhead study is one example of our working with partners from across the region to bring to bear research we have conducted and well as brining lessons learned from work being done in other ULI District Councils across the country,” Kirsch said in an email.

The firm that is selected for the study is instructed in the RFP to frequently engage the steering committee in discussions and provide opportunities for broader public engagement.

“Strategies should be developed with an effort to ‘meet people where they are’ to ensure broad based reach and input from communities typically underrepresented in public discussions,” the RFP said.

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