Category Archives: Urban affairs

Rainbow sidewalks art installation approved on temporary basis, artist protested

The artist protested, but the Atlanta City Council voted unanimously Monday to allow the rainbow flag to be painted on the road as crosswalks near Piedmont Park on a temporary basis, not a permanent one.

Robert Sepulveda Jr.

Robert Sepulveda Jr.

Atlanta artist Robert Sepulveda Jr. spoke at the meeting. He told the council that the original plan was for his artwork, The Atlanta Rainbow Crosswalks, to be a permanent installation at the corner of 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue.

“The original legislation said, ‘in perpetuity,’” Sepulveda said. “We want this to be a permanent installation.”

Sepulveda created a plan to paint right the crosswalks with rainbow strips of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Two bands are to be 10 feet wide, and two bands are to be 11 feet wide, according to the legislation.

The original legislation was changed to allow the artwork for about a week before and after the Atlanta Pride Festival. Sepulveda said neither he nor other advocates were notified of the change.

The legislation sets the time frame for the installation from about Oct. 3 through about Oct. 16. The Atlanta Pride Festival is scheduled Oct. 10 and Oct. 11.

Rainbow crosswalks

This rendering shows the Atlanta Rainbow Crosswalks looking east toward Piedmont Park. File/Credit: Facebook.com

Sepulveda addressed one of the issues that Public Works Commissioner Richard Mendoza cited in a letter he sent Sepulveda. The letter notified Sepulveda that the city had determined its need to establish a better policy regarding such projects.

One such concern is that other groups may seek to paint the city’s street with emblems that some could find offensive or inflammatory.

“If the public wants to do an art installation of their own, they can write the proposal and send it to the city, as we did,” Sepulveda said.

The Atlanta Rainbow Crosswalks project’s Facebook page attributes this letter to Mendoza:

The council voted without comment to allow the artwork to be installed on a temporary basis. The legislation was on the council’s consent agenda, which is a section that allows the council to approve multiple actions with a single vote.

Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell asked the council repeatedly if there were any items members wanted to pull from the consent agenda. This procedure allows legislation to be discussed by the full council and possibly returned to a committee for further consideration.

Councilmembers pulled a few items off the consent agenda, but none was the rainbow crosswalks paper.

Atlanta Councilmember Alex Wan voted in favor of the legislation. He had been named by the project’s website as one of the city officials who should receive requests to make the installation permanent.

Wan posted a comment on the project’s Facebook page after Sepulveda spoke:

Atlanta Councilmember Kwanza Hall, who sponsored the legislation, had an excused absence from the meeting and did not cast a vote. His airplane was late returning Atlanta, it was announced at the meeting.

 

 

Civic elders ask millennials to engage with community; How will they respond?

This may be a breakout year for millennials in metro Atlanta because the region’s current leaders are actively encouraging young folks to step into the public realm. One question is the form the relationship will take.

Midtown millennial

Metro Atlanta civic leaders are seeking to ways to engage millennials such as Sarah Ayres in the public arena. Ayres was in a Midtown cafe while Pony was served on the sidewalk. Credit: David Pendered

Bill Bolling didn’t mince any words in his comments to more than 100 young professionals assembled by the Atlanta Regional Commission to bring their fresh eye to eight challenges facing the region. Bolling now heads the Food Well Alliance after founding and running the Atlanta Community Food Bank for more than 35 years.

“We want you to lead the effort,” Bolling said. “To begin to map who your allies are. The ARC is one; Community Foundation is one; the Food Well Alliance. To start mapping progressive policy makers in government, business. At the end of the day it has to be a business proposition. You’re going to say that, because you’re going to say, ‘This is what we want; this is what we demand.’”

For some baby boomers, the millennials’ response to Bolling’s challenge may present a case of, “be careful what you wish for.” According to a White House report, all indications are that millennials have the education and social skills to win their case when they engage in an issue:

However, the millennials face a challenge may impede their ability to engage in politics or community-building events: college debt. Finding time for such activities might not be possible for a millennial facing a monthly payment on a student loan.

The average real per borrower debt increased from $24,000 in 2004 to $30,000 in 2012, according to the White House report. Total student outstanding loan debt exceeded $1 trillion at the end of the second quarter of 2014.

To get greater numbers of this generation into the fold, the Gwinnett Chamber has revamped its youth outreach program. The chamber has partnered with Georgia Gwinnett College to ramp up Gwinnett Young Professionals, a mentoring program.

“Our mission is to attract millennials to the chamber when they first enter the workforce and engage and empower them through community, professional and social opportunities,” Sean George, manager of membership services at the Gwinnett Chamber and program manager of Gwinnett Young Professionals, said in a statement.

Millennials by race, ethnicity

Metro Atlanta mirrors the national trend of millennials being the most ethnically and racially diverse cohort of youth in the nation’s history, with no majority ethnic group in 2010, according to an ARC survey. Credit: ARC

This strategy, of focusing an outreach program on millennials, is one of the recommendations of a report commissioned by the ARC. The Millennial Report is part of the ARC’s New Voices program, which aims to promote meaningful conversation among millennials on topics related to the future of metro Atlanta.

ARC sponsored the event where Bolling made his comments to nearly 100 millennials. The Millennial Meeting was the forum at which eight working groups of millennials turned their attention to regional problems – transit; access to healthy food; affordable and livable centers; mentorships at every stage of life; education; uniting the region; and promoting regional cooperation.

ARC Chairman Kerry Armstrong told the young professionals that current leaders are looking to them for ideas, and ways to implement them.

“I want to reiterate the high expectations we have of this group,” Armstrong said at the start of the meeting. “What we hear tonight is extremely important to all of us.”

At the end of the meeting Armstrong echoed Bolling’s sentiment: “How do we keep the momentum up? All you groups are going tell us, and we’re going to listen.”

 

Atlanta City Council votes Monday on proposed rainbow crosswalks near Piedmont Park

The Atlanta City Council is slated to vote Monday on a proposal to allow the rainbow flag to be painted on the road as four crosswalks at the intersection of Piedmont Avenue and 10th Street. The artwork is to be removed a few days after the Atlanta Pride Festival.

Rainbow crosswalks

This rendering shows the Atlanta Rainbow Crosswalks looking east toward Piedmont Park. Credit: Facebook.com

Atlanta Councilmember Kwanza Hall sponsored the resolution to allow the crosswalks to be painted. Hall also sponsored a resolution this month that established every June 26 as LGBT Equality Day.

The original plan for the crosswalks envisioned them as a permanent installation. Public Works Commissioner Richard Mendoza later determined the installation would be temporary, citing the city’s need to establish a better policy regarding such projects.

The project’s Facebook page attributes this letter to Mendoza:

Advocates are asking supporters to contact Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and various city officials.

The pending legislation sets the timeframe from about Oct. 3 through about Oct. 16. The Atlanta Pride Festival is scheduled Oct. 10 and Oct. 11.

Robert Sepulveda Jr.

Robert Sepulveda Jr.

Atlanta artist Robert Sepulveda Jr. has proposed to paint the crosswalks in an installation entitled, “The Atlanta Rainbow Crosswalks.” Bright rainbow strips of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple are to be painted as crosswalks. Two bands are to be 10 feet wide, and two bands are to be 11 feet wide, according to the legislation.

Sepulveda works as an interior designer and his perspectives are shaped by his childhood in his native Puerto Rico, according to his website.

The legislation was drafted by Robin Shahar. Shahar, a chief counsel in the city’s Law Department, serves Reed as his top advisor on LGBT issues.

Sepulveda’s website notes that he chose the intersection because it is the, “epicenter of the LGBT community.”

The legislation quotes Sepulveda as describing the artwork as: “[A] visual message of acceptance, unity and tolerance that reminds us all of how diverse the [LGBT] community and its allies are.”

On his webpage, Sepulveda goes on to say that the artwork represents a broad scope of issues:

This is the rendering included in the package of legislation the Atlanta City Council is to consider Monday. Credit: City of Atlanta.

This is the rendering included in the package of legislation the Atlanta City Council is to consider Monday. Credit: City of Atlanta.

Sepulveda proposes to install, maintain, and remove the artwork at no cost to the city, according to the legislation. He passed his original fundraising goal of $20,000 by raising $40,000, according to the project’s Facebook page.

The board of Neighborhood Planning Unit E unanimously endorsed the project in a vote taken June 2, according to the legislation.

NPU-E represents neighborhoods including Ansley Park and Sherwood Forest on the north, to Georgia Tech and Marietta Street Artery on the south.

 

 

 

Georgia women paid an average of 82 cents for every $1 paid to men, report shows

Women in Georgia are paid an average of 82 cents for every dollar paid to men, according to a report released Friday.

Rosie the Riveter, Mary Doyle Keefe

Norman Rockwell’s famous painting of Rosie the Riveter, inspired by Mary Doyle Keefe, was viewed as an inspiration to women. Credit: usmagazine.com

The National Partnership for Women and Families conducted a nationwide study that determined the national average is that women are paid 79 cents for every dollar paid to men. The figures represent workers in fulltime jobs.

“This study confirms that a punishing wage gap persists for women in every corner of the country and the costs for women, their families and our national and state economies are significant,” Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said in a statement.

In Georgia, the annual gap in wages results in women being paid $8,155 less than men. The NPWF used data from the American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, 2014, to reach its conclusions, according to the report.

Georgia ranks 37th in the nation in terms of the wage gap, according to the report. The difference in wages paid in Georgia is 18 cents.

Wage gap

This chart shows the wage gap reported Friday by the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Louisiana is ranked No. 1, with a wage gap of 35 cents, followed by Utah (33 cents), Wyoming (31 cents), West Virginia (30 cents), and North Dakota (29 cents).

The areas with the least disparities are Washington, D.C. (10 cents), New York (13 cents), Hawaii (14 cents), and four states with a disparity of 15 cents – Maryland, Nevada, Florida, and North Carolina. California, Arizona, and Vermont share the fifth place in terms of lowest disparity, at 16 cents.

The NPWF is lobbying Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. Sen. Barbara Milkulski (D-Md.) introduced the legislation in 2013. Milkulski, 78, announced in March that she will not seek reelection to the Senate, where she has served since 1987. Milkulski previous served a decade in the U.S. House.

The legislation would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 in order to, “revise remedies for, enforcement of, and exceptions to prohibitions against sex discrimination in the payment of wages,” according to a summary of the bill on congress.gov.

The legislation would revise, “the exception to the prohibition for a wage rate differential based on any other factor other than sex. Limits such factors to bona fide factors, such as education, training, or experience,” according to the summary.

“Closing the wage gap would help keep women and families from losing much-needed income while benefitting our communities and country,” Ness said. “It is past time for federal lawmakers to take real action to promote equality and economic security for America’s women and families by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is a reasonable and common sense proposal that has languished in Congress for too long.”

Here are some snapshots from the report on Georgia:

Watchdog organizations launched by former ED of Common Cause of Georgia

William Perry, the former executive director of Common Cause of Georgia, announced Wednesday that he’s launching two new watchdog organizations – Georgia Ethics Watchdogs and the Georgia Ethics Watchdogs Education Fund.

William Perry, former ED Common Cause of Georgia

William Perry

Perry said he’s already received a number of suggestions of where he should begin his work.

“I’ve had no shortage of suggestions on Facebook and email,” Perry said. “Everyone in Georgia feels they live in the most corrupt county in the state.”

Here’s how Perry described the organizations in a statement he released:

Perry has planned a fundraising kickoff party Sept. 28 from 7 p.m to 9 p.m. at Manuel’s Tavern.

Perry incorporated both organizations Aug. 16 as civic and social organizations, according to records filed with the Secretary of State. Perry is the registered agent for each organization.

Perry announced his forced resignation from Common Cause Georgia on Aug. 11. He was ousted as part of a realignment of the national organization under the leadership of former Clinton cabinet member Robert Reich.

The national organization intends to work on economic opportunity issues, sustainability and environmental protection. Under Perry’s guidance, the Georgia affiliate focused on watchdog efforts and public policy initiatives.

“I think it’s an opportunity that will work well for all of us,” Perry said. “Common Cause can get a new start, and I can do what I want to do with a singular focus.”

On the website of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs, Perry indicates he harbors no ill will toward Common Cause:

“I will cheer from the sideline with great enthusiasm as CCGA continues with some of the issues I worked on while there, as well as forges new territories (and no doubt excel with) in the arena of public policy.”

Perry also outlines the mission of the new organizations:

“The purpose of both is to fill a void that has long existed in Georgia, by creating a singularly focused watchdog organizations. I say that not as a criticism of my former organization, Common Cause Georgia (CCGA), or as a regret of my time as its executive director for almost 5 years. It took time and training with that organization for me to form the opinion that it is nearly impossible to be successful serving simultaneously as a watchdog and as an advocate for public policy. It’s far too difficult to have the good cop and the bad cop under the same roof.”

DeKalb County will be one area of interest because of the investigation into allegations of government corruption. Former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers and private investigator Richard Hyde.

In a letter delivered last month to interim DeKalb CEO Lee May, Bowers and Hyde wrote: “The DeKalb County government we have found is rotten to the core. The misconduct starts at the top and has infected nearly every department we have looked at.”

Atlanta’s 2017 mayoral race is another area Perry expects to watch.

“That will be almost unavoidable, making sure that all candidates who vye for that are playing by the rules,” Perry said.

State government also is a likely subject.

“There’s always the governor,” Perry said.

 

 

Millennials offer a smorgasbord of solutions to the region’s big challenges

Editor’s note: Visit our page Sept. 22 to read more on this subject and the broader issue of millennials in metro Atlanta.

The Atlanta Regional Commission recruited some of the sharpest millennial minds in metro Atlanta to come up with their best solutions to the region’s thorniest problems. The overarching response is that no challenge is too great if folks are willing to try new things and work together.

Doug Hooker

ARC Executive Director Doug Hooker recorded the slides and videos presented during the Millennial Mixer. Credit: David Pendered

A proposed Pledge to Win the Future is the clearest example of how one group of millennials think the region should approach its challenges. Presenter Michael Leithead said Denver created its Mile High Compact 15 years, and the compact helped create a shared vision for the region.

Eight working groups of millennials presented their solutions in a format similar to those on the TV show, Shark Tank. The Millennial Mixer, on Monday evening, culminated a project that ARC Executive Director Doug Hooker has pursued for almost three years. The teams have been working most of this year.

After the mixer, Hooker said he viewed the eight teams as a convergence of focus group, think tank, and implementation team.

“They are a focus group in that we started with the idea of putting them in a lot of settings they are comfortable in and asking, ‘what do you want to see in this region and what will keep you committed.’ We got lots of ideas and these eight subjects rose to the top. So that’s a focus group.

“The think tank aspect is, ‘How do you put these ideas into action; how does the region implement them,’” Hooker said. “As far as implementation team, you saw their energy, their excitement. They are laser focused on implementing these ideas.”

At this point, Nick Juliano, a presenter, walked up and offered to be a contact for future stories about his group’s effort. Juliano said he wanted to approach the Metro Atlanta Chamber to gauge its support and interest on advancing the group’s subject – creating a unified voice of support for transit in metro Atlanta, and a unified transit system to operate it.

Millennial Mixer

Putting live DJs to mix music on MARTA trains is one of the ideas that would incorporate transit into the lifestyles of riders, millennial presenter Blake Bredbenner said. Credit: David Pendered

Hooker offered to introduce Juliano to chamber chamber President/CEO Hala Moddelmog, who attended the mixer.

The solution Juliano and his teammates devised is to unify the support for transit that is emerging throughout the region. A number of polls have showed a rising level of support across the region for improving transit.

The group already has created a website to begin building support and gathering responses to a poll.

A related aspect is to unify the region’s five major transit systems in order to promote the development of a comprehensive transit system. The group cites MARTA, GRTA, Cobb Community Transit, Gwinnett County Transit, and Atlanta Streetcar.

According to a statement on the website: “Transit is top of mind for individuals across the region, but this has translated to limited action. If metro Atlanta is to remain competitive as a region, it will need to provide residents with a comprehensive and unified transit system capable of moving people conveniently and efficiently throughout the region.”

A second team that considered the transit issue considered the issue of healthy transit habits.

The upshot is to make MARTA an integral part of life in metro Atlanta. Ideas include an app that lists events occurring at locations near MARTA bus and rail stops; expanding the fresh market concept that MARTA has developed at the West End Station; staging pop up community gardens in underused parking lots; and having live DJs mix music inside MARTA trains.

MARTA would hire an art curator to coordinate the events, according to presenter Blake Bredbenner.

 

Atlanta Climate Action Plan to set sustainability agenda for region’s urban core

Atlanta is poised to adopt a comprehensive plan intended to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions and forestall climate change, much like sustainability initiatives at Emory University and Spelman College that have resulted in their ranking among the greenest campuses in the country.

Urban gardens

Atlanta is home to at least 85 community and school gardens, and at least 10 urban farms, according to the proposed Atlanta Climate Action Plan, which proposes to expand the city’s food programs. Credit: westsidecommunities.org

Lofty goals outlined in the introduction of the proposed Atlanta Climate Action Plan can be achieved through, “common sense approaches and cutting edge policies.” The goals include reducing energy use and waste, creating local jobs, improving air quality, and improving the local landscape and history.

The proposed sustainability policy has evolved into one that addresses many more aspects of the city’s carbon footprint than a proposal introduced at the start of the Great Recession, in 2007. Rather than focusing on commercial buildings, the current proposal covers everything from energy audits on buildings to urban farms and food deserts.

The Atlanta City Council could consider adopting the proposed Atlanta Climate Action Plan as early as Sept. 21. This schedule presumes that two council committees support the proposal at their meetings on Tuesday. Atlanta Councilmember Kwanza Hall sponsored the resolution.

The Utilities Committee is to begin the discussion. If members approve the proposal, they are slated to refer it to the Community Development Committee for consideration Tuesday afternoon. If the proposal clears the second committee, it is to be placed on the city council’s Sept. 21 agenda.

The sweeping proposal encompasses several initiatives the city now is implementing, but in a piecemeal fashion. The Atlanta Climate Action Plan is to bring all the initiatives, both existing and future, into one program overseen by the Office of Sustainability, now headed by Stephanie Stuckey Benfield.

For example, Mayor Kasim Reed recently created and posted the position of “urban agriculture director.” The duties will include the implementation of a food security program that’s identified in the Atlanta Climate Action Plan. The notion is for the new position to promote new policies regarding farming in the city, and the conversion of brownfields into urban gardens.

The Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge now has 100 million square feet of commercial space enrolled in a program that aims to reduce water and energy consumption by 20 percent by the year 2020. The Atlanta Climate Action Plan calls for expanding the program. The plan states that 45 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions stem from commercial buildings and industrial processes.

An example cited in the Atlanta Climate Action Plan involves the cost savings and emissions reductions related to the illumination of the exterior of Atlanta City Hall. The older lighting system was replaced in 2013 with a system of light emitting diodes (LEDs). Annual maintenance costs were trimmed by $8,000, electricity costs by $8,000, and 36 tons of greenhouse gases were abated.

The Atlanta Climate Action Plan is the result of a stakeholder process that brought together more than 50 individuals with expertise in six categories:

 

 

The organizations that participated on a Technical Steering Committee include:

 

 

 

One participant previously produced a report on air quality in metro Atlanta that’s received scant attention. David D’Onofrio is the ARC’s air quality and climate change principal planner, and he released a report last year entitled, Understanding the regulatory environment of climate change and the Impact of community design on greenhouse gas emissions.

The Buckhead community in Atlanta produces the greatest amount of carbon dioxide emissions, per person, in the Atlanta region. The ranking includes emissions for both powering homes and tailpipe exhaust.

On a related point, Atlanta’s sustainability plan is more aggressive than Georgia’s pending State Wildlife Plan.

Atlanta’s plan seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, whereas the state plan seeks to devise ways of, “preparing for and coping with climate change impacts on fish and wildlife.”

The two campuses in metro Atlanta that achieved national rankings for the success of sustainability programs were announced in the August edition of Sierra magazine.

Out of a pool of 153 schools, on a scale of 1 to 1,000 points, the schools were scored:

 

Atlanta to observe LGBT Equality Day annually on June 26

Atlanta will observe June 26 as LGBT Equality Day in recognition of that date being significant on the LGBT calendar because that is the date on which the Supreme Court issued rulings on human rights, and it was the date of Atlanta’s first observance of Atlanta Gay Pride Day.

LGBT Equality Day, Atlanta City Council

Every member of the Atlanta City Council signed a resolution that proclaims every June 26 to be LGBT Equality Day in the city. Atlanta Councilmember Kwanza Hall sponsored the legislation. Credit: City of Atlanta

Every member of the Atlanta City Council signed a resolution that proclaims June 26 as LGBT Equality Day.

Atlanta Councilmember Kwanza Hall sponsored the resolution. Hall invited Atlanta Councilmember Alex Wan to join him for the presentation and to make remarks.

Beth Littrell, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal, said in remarks during the event that advocates there eventually will be a national LGBT Equality Day. Littrell has been involved with several lawsuits significant to the LGBT community.

Here it the full text of the resolution:

Hall said the resolution grew out of a meeting at which representatives of the ACLU and Lambda Legal noted that June 26 is an important day on the calendar of the human rights movement.

The court issued its ruling June 26 in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, and three related cases. In a 5-4 ruling, the court found the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.

LGBT Equality Day, Beth Littrell

Beth Littrell, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal, said advocates hope that one day there will be a national LGBT Equality Day. Credit: City of Atlanta

Hall read the resolution and invited Wan to make remarks. Wan began by noting that he and his finance became engaged on June 26 at an event at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, in Atlanta.

“I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime,” Wan said of the Supreme Court ruling. “It’s a real affirmation of what our community has been working for, for a long time…. At the end, love won.”

Atlanta Councilmember Mary Norwood said the resolution is, “perfect,” adding, “We do embrace this, and I personally am looking forward to Gay Pride once again.”

Littrell presented a history of legal cases that led to the Supreme Court’s ruling on June 26. She reminded of the Bowers v. Hardwick case that was initiated by the arrest of Michael Hardwick by Atlanta police officers who saw him engaged in a sex act with a man inside Hardwick’s home.

The Supreme Court upheld Georgia’s sodomy law in its 1986 ruling in the Hardwick case. The Supreme Court overturned its decision in its 2003 ruling in the Lawrence v. Texas lawsuit.

“There’s no debate this city has long been an oasis,” Littrell said. “We are so pleased that now and every June 26 this city sends a powerful message, we and hope it will be part of what will become a national holiday.”

 

Eat your vegetables: Atlanta joins effort to grow food for those underserved

Atlanta is joining the ranks of New York City and Sacramento, Ca. in promoting urban agriculture, a fast-growing trend that promotes the growing of plant food in and near the urban core of a metropolitan area.

New York food farm

New York City has designated about a dozen city agencies to oversee its urban agriculture program.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced Sept. 2 that he has created and posted the position of “Urban Agriculture Director.” The position will be based in the mayor’s Office of Sustainability, now headed by Stephanie Stuckey Benfield.

The term “urban agriculture” has various definitions across various cities. The consensus for the desired outcome seems to be that urban agriculture promotes access to fruits and vegetables, mainly for folks who now have to travel long distances to access such foods.

In Atlanta, the notion is for the new position to promote new policies regarding farming in the city, and the conversion of brownfields into urban gardens.

In addition, the statement says:

Bill Bolling, the founding director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, said:

The statement does not elaborate on how brownfields are to be converted into gardens, or if food will be grown in the brownfield gardens.

Brownfields are defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Division as: “[R]eal property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”

The new position Reed has created advances a policy his administration promoted in 2014. The Atlanta City Council approved June 2, 2014 an amendment to Atlanta’s zoning ordinance that allows urban gardens and market gardens to operate in residential zoning districts, according to a statement released by Reed’s office:

This is how one advocate for the zoning change, Atlanta Local Food Initiative, described the reason for the amendment:

This is how the urban agriculture movement has unfolded in two other cites:

New York City

Sacramento

 

Breaking cycles of poverty: How not to cluster the poor in broken neighborhoods

Metro Atlanta could be the poster child for housing policies that, intentionally or not, have concentrated lower income households in non-white neighborhoods that aren’t pleasant places. The U.S. Supreme Court and the Obama administration intend to change the way policies are implemented, and the policies.

Imperial Hotel

The Imperial Hotel, in downtown Atlanta, was renovated in 1995 with funding from the Low Income Tax Credit Program. All 120 rooms were set aside for low income residents. Credit: wikimedia.org

In the world of housing advocates and developers, the actions coming out of Washington this past summer are most compelling. They could change the way business has been conducted for decades, according to panelists at a quarterly forum sponsored Wednesday by Atlanta Housing Forum.

“The Supreme Court decision is really scary when you look at it, because it’s not built on what we intended to do, it’s built on things that maybe we don’t control,” said Laurel Hart, who directs the Housing Finance and Development Division of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Hart referred to the outcome of long-standing Georgia DCA policies regarding low-income housing tax credits. The outcomes in Georgia are similar to those at the heart of a test case heard by the Supreme Court involving the Texas Department of Community Affairs.

Georgia’s policies for allocating the tax credits have resulted in affordable housing in metro Atlanta being concentrated mainly in south Atlanta, south DeKalb and south Clayton counties, and the town centers of counties such as Hall and Cherokee counties, according to maps provided by Mike Carnathan, a researcher with the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Housing Forum, low income tax credit projects

Georgia’s formula for allocation low income tax credits has resulted in affordable housing being concentrated in poor communities. Credit: ARC

The reason is the matrix of rules that determine where Georgia seeks to encourage the development of affordable housing, according to Hart. Evidently, the matrix has had an unintended impact and the matrix needs to be changed, she said.

“If the end results of our selection process means we are primarily building in high minority concentration areas with high poverty, high crime, than we need to make changes,” Hart said.

The policies should be based on a number of decisions influenced by the court ruling, she said.

“It doesn’t prohibit us from building in a blighted area,” Hart said. “But when we do, I think it has to be much more thoughtful. I don’t think we can just build a tax credit project in a minority concentrated area with high crime, bad schools, and we’re going to say that just because we build here we’re making that community better. … Are we just building a property, or are we community building? Are we making a community better place for people to live?”

Hart was one of three speakers on the panel. The others offered their perspective of the federal actions.

Tera Doak is an attorney and self-avowed “geek” on housing law. Doak serves as associate general counsel for Habitat for Humanity International.

`Housing Forum, low income in minority neighborhoods

Georgia’s formula for allocating low income tax credits has resulted in affordable housing being concentrated in non-white communities. Credit: ARC

In her closing comments in the first segment of the program Doak noted: “One of the points I’m trying to make is there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there in respect to these claims, and it will be really interesting to see how all this plays out.”

Doak noted that the Supreme Court ruling did reaffirm a long-standing ruling about what it takes to make a case of disparate impact in fair housing lawsuits. And HUD did issue a final ruling that will affect programs including the Community Development Block Grant.

Still, from a lawyer’s perspective, a lot of litigation remains before the final policies are determined.

“It remains to be seen how courts ill apply, ‘disparate impact,’” Doak said. “Additional cases will be brought that will flesh that out.”

The headliner of the presentation was Ethan Handelman, vice president for policy and advocacy for the National Housing Conference.

Incidentally, NHC presented its 2015 Housing Visionary Award in June to Piece by Piece, a regional initiative to address the foreclosure crisis. Piece by Piece is staffed by the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, Inc., which helps staff Atlanta Regional Housing.

Handelmann was enthused by the rulings from the Supreme Court and HUD. He focused on the notion that the court had reaffirmed long-standing interpretations of fair housing.

Housing Forum, housing plus transportation costs

Metro Atlanta ranks sixth highest in the nation in terms of the combined cost of housing and transporation. Credit: ARC

“In some ways, what the Supreme Court says is, ‘status quo continues,’” Handelmann said. “By reaffirming that standard, it added a lot of energy to this conversation and remind people of what the Fair Housing Act of 1968 means, and how we can change communities for the better.”

Handelmann discussed the sometimes competing visions of fair housing. Some advocates call for community development. Others frame the fair housing issues of access and choice as relevant in civil rights.

“Too often, we’re fighting each other,” he said.

Handelmann’s comments reminded of the 2013 Supreme Court decision that wiped away crucial parts of the Votings Rights Act of 1965. The court determined that states with histories of racial discrimination no longer need approval from the federal government to change voting laws.

Obama called last month for Congress to renew the provision. On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruled against providing Shelby County, Ala., with more than $2 million to cover its legal costs for bringing the case to the Supreme Court, according to a report in huffingtonpost.com.

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