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ANALYSIS: T-SPLOST, the Beltline, and Gentrification

(APN) ATLANTA -- The T-SPLOST--a one penny sales tax measure intended to fund transportation projects in the Metro Atlanta area--will be on Metro Atlanta ballots on July 31, 2012.  One controversial project that would be funded through the T-SPLOST is the Atlanta Beltline.

This article will explain how the appearance of the Beltline on the T-SPLOST project list means that working families in Atlanta are being asked to pay for the gentrification which will likely result in the displacement of many of these same families from the City of Atlanta.

This article will further explain how the appearance of the Beltline on the T-SPLOST represents a betrayal of Atlanta voters who were promised a robust Beltline Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Atlanta Progressive News has reported in depth for several years on how the Beltline is primarily a development, rather than a transportation, project, aimed primarily at raising property values and property taxes, thus gentrifying neighborhoods throughout Atlanta.

It is not speculation that the Beltline is a gentrification project.  Indeed, when the Beltline was first presented, and the funding mechanism for the Beltline was supposed to be a series of Beltline Tax Allocation District (TAD) bonds, the planned gentrification was built into the financing mechanism itself.

The premise of a TAD is that the City borrows money through the sale of a bond; invests that money into neighborhoods; and then uses the increase in property taxes that results from the investment in the neighborhood to repay the bond with interest.  Thus, the increase in property taxes was always part of the plan.

Now, early on when the Beltline was being proposed, working families, especially throughout working class neighborhoods Atlanta in South Atlanta, raised concerns about gentrification and displacement.

In response, then-Councilman Ceasar Mitchell (formerly Post 1-at-large) proposed that fifteen percent of all TAD bonds would go into a Beltline Affordable Housing Trust Fund (BAHTF), which was intended to provide some new affordable housing opportunities to mitigate the expected increases in property taxes and rents in Beltline neighborhoods.

The City indeed created the BAHTF, as well as a Beltline Affordable Housing Advisory Board, which was tasked with recommending how the funds should be spent.

APN has reported over the last few years on the BAHTF and BAHAB; and how BAHAB originally proposed a requirement of a set-aside of ten percent of all units at a rental price affordable to families making thirty percent of the Area Medium Income (AMI) or less, in any multi-family developments receiving BAHTF dollars.

APN reported on how the Beltline and the then-Atlanta Development Authority (ADA) opposed the requirement.

APN reported on how the Beltline spent nearly two years attempting to avoid being honest with the Community Development/Human Resources Cmte of the City Council of Atlanta regarding their opposition to this requirement.  

APN reported on how the Beltline lied about its opposition to this requirement.

APN has reported on how, to date, the BAHTF dollars have been used on nothing other than down-payment assistance on single-family homes and condos; how many of the families benefiting from this assistance make well over 30 percent of AMI; and how the ADA already had a downpayment assistance program, making this a repackaging of an existing program.

There is much more to be said, and that has been said, about the Beltline and their Affordable Housing Trust Fund shenanigans.  The misuse of affordable housing dollars to assist middle and upper-income families in the City of Atlanta has a long history that has been detailed in Larry Keating’s book on Atlanta, called Race, Class, and Urban Expansion.  

So far, even with the one installment of about one million dollars into the BAHTF from the one Beltline TAD bond that has been taken out, these folks could not even bring themselves to support a program of meaningful assistance for working families.

And, yet and still, the entire notion of BAHTF has been a bait and switch.

Apparently, the Beltline, in pursuing funding for itself from the voters through the T-SPLOST, has given up on its plan to fund the Beltline through the TAD funding mechanism.

What this means is, to the extent that the T-SPLOST, if approved, will fund multiple segments of the Beltline, then, in fact, nothing will be going into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for those segments.  

And so, the inclusion of the Beltline in the T-SPLOST represents nothing less than a broken promise made to the citizens of Atlanta.

The Beltline has done nothing to come back to the citizens and explain why they have broken their promises, nor to explain how they now propose to mitigate Beltline-related gentrification--to make up in the expected loss of BAHTF dollars--in any way.

Furthermore, with sales taxes being a regressive form of taxation, meaning that they disproportionately burden working families, that means that Atlanta’s working families are now being asked to fund their own housing cost burden and possible displacement.

Numerous organizations--ranging from the local Sierra Club, to the DeKalb County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, to the local Tea Parties--have expressed opposition to the upcoming T-SPLOST in Metro Atlanta for a variety of reasons.

Indeed, if the project list for Metro Atlanta included numerous MARTA heavy rail line extensions, the conversation would be very different today.

Yet, the issues surrounding the Beltline and gentrification have largely been missing from the discussion.  It is hoped that this article will prompt further dialogue on the impact of the T-SPLOST on Atlanta’s scarce and dwindling stock of truly affordable housing.


Comments (8)

Chuck Steffen
Said this on 6-13-2012 At 06:27 pm

Thanks for the good work, Matthew.  APN is one of the few places where readers can get Atlanta news uncensored by the governing regime.  After reading your latest piece on the Beltline, I found myself asking why local progressive organizations have been unable to mount a more effective challenge to the regime's redevelopment agenda.  One problem, I think, has to do with the unions, the building trades in particular.  In A New New Deal:  How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement (2009), Amy Dean and David Reynolds explain how in 2005 the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council helped draft a amendment to the Beltline TAD that provided for prevailing wages for workers on the Beltline projects, first-source hiring, and apprenticeship and preapprenticeship programs for neighborhood residents.  Charlie Flemming of the Labor Council (now president of the Ga. AFL-CIO) was instrumental in the negotiations that produced this amendment.  Dean and Reynolds cite this initiative as a successful example of the new move toward "regional power building" that promises to revive the labor movement.  They claim that the Labor Council and the state AFL-CIO acted as "champions helping neighborhoods organize."  In light of the 2005 split between the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, all progressives must support labor-community coalition building at the metropolitan and regional levels.  Yet progressives should be troubled by the Labor Council's intervention on the Beltline issue, for it represents a form of pro-"growth machine" politics that goes back many years.  In the early 1990s when Stewart Acuff was its president, the Atlanta Labor Council entered into a similar agreement with Larry Gellerstedt and ACOG regarding the construction of the Atlanta Olympic Stadium. According to the memorandum that Acuff, Gellerstedt, and Charlie Key of the North Georgia Building Trades Council put together, Peoplestown and Mechanicsville were supposed to get the same goodies that are now on offer to low-income Beltline neighborhoods.  Did these goodies materialize?  Nope.  The principal legacies of the stadium agreement were the accelerated gentrification of Summerhill and the proliferation of a new generation of community development corporations that were thoroughly coopted by local corporate capital.  I can't help but wonder what kind of behind-the-scenes negotiations are now taking place between the Labor Council, the Building Trades, and the Falcons over the construction of Arthur Blank's new dream stadium.  My larger point is this:  Atlanta has a long history of mega-projects in which the Labor Council has served as the mouthpiece for the Building Trades, whose overriding priority is a robust construction sector, irrespective of the destructive impact that stadiums, beltlines, and street cars, etc. will have on low-income neighborhoods earmarked for gentrification and displacement.  Don't get me wrong:  carpenters and electricians need jobs, good jobs.  But the Labor Council shouldn't privilege any one segment of the working class:  it should speak for the class as a whole.  Central Labor Councils have always been the neglected stepchildren of the union movement, but they could become institutional anchors of a genuinely class-based progressive upsurge.  Matthew, your article provides an opportunity for progressives to begin thinking about how the Labor Council can reposition itself so as to take into account the interests of the entire working class; this class is increasingly concentrated in precarious service employment, and it is brutally segmented by race, ethnicity, and gender.  We need to have an open and honest discussion regarding the role of the Labor Council and Building Trades Council in the promotion of the Beltline.  This discussion might be a starting point for the real challenge facing progressives:  formulating an alternative to the regime's regressive redevelopment agenda.  

Burroughston Broch
Said this on 6-15-2012 At 03:52 pm

The key involvement of the Labor Council and Building Trades Council in the process is sufficient reason in itself to vote no. They are only focused on keeping their members paying union dues, which then keeps the union leadership on easy street.

Chuck Steffen
Said this on 6-15-2012 At 05:36 pm

Dear BB,

I'm a little concerned that you misunderstood my point.  The union leadership is not on "easy street," whatever that's supposed to mean.  Good God, man, union density in Atlanta has dropped from 6.5 to 5 percent in the last couple of years!  The Labor Council is fighting for its life, and for the lives of the working men and women it believes it represents.  What we as progressives need to do is get the Labor Council to understand that it represents more than the AFL-CIO and Change to Win locals that have chosen to affiliate with it.  The Labor Council has an opportunity to step forward as the representative of all workers, organized or not.  And it has the opportunity to expand the notion of class struggle beyond the workplace to the homeplace--to the communities where so many flexibilized workers live.  The criticism I offered of the Labor Council was given in the spirit of solidarity and critical reflection.  Please don't twist my words into something I never wrote or intended to write.  

Restless in GA
Said this on 6-13-2012 At 10:47 pm

I don't think that the passage of the Regional Transportation Referendum will decrease the amount of affordable homes that are in the area.  I do however think that it will make it easier and more efficient for people to get around the city which will mean more time that they are able to spend at home.  I also think that with the passage of this referendum it will also enable more businesses to welcome the thought of coming to Atlanta.  Traffic is a burden for the residents who reside in Atlanta and in the surronding counties.  Other major cities are reforming/have reformed their transportation infrastructure and it is due time for Atlanta to do so as well.

Said this on 6-15-2012 At 04:06 am

There's MORE than what meets the eye - activists against these type projects are being targeted for the loss of their jobs and for "anonymous" calls to Zoning / Code Enforcement & so-called "quality of life" police units for targeted ticketing and "enforcement..."

'Cuz you just *know* that our overgrown grass and "illegally" parked cars (on our OWN property, mind you) are all running around looting and beating up old ladies, right?

Take a look at Google results from a Google search for the term: Roswell chicken man suicide - and you will see how desperate the banks are willing to be over THEIR projects - because the BANKS "own" foreclosures, then the BANKS "fund" these "projects" with magic money they ordered up computers to create, and BANKS then "sell" these foreclosed lands back to local governments for use or to real buyers all over again, and the original homeowners and the tax payers really are the ones losing.

I have received death threats for talking.

The fight for legitimacy is on, because the political will of the people is changing, and the banks are angry that their party is not continuing on.

Said this on 6-15-2012 At 10:23 pm

I see a bait and switch when it comes to the use of the T-SPLOST funding. I was poised to vote for the 1 cent tax despite my displeasure with the short changinf of MARTA and other public transportation in the final project list. I am seriously considering changing my vote. U, I will withhold my vote and advocate for others to do the same.  

Said this on 6-16-2012 At 02:41 pm

I think your use of the term "working families" is Highly misguided.

Gloria Key-Taylor
Said this on 6-18-2012 At 11:13 pm

Thank u for update. I will Forward to everyone on e-mail list.  We have all been duped.

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