Bringing CLTs to Scale in Atlanta

To ensure affordable housing around the Atlanta BeltLine, the new Atlanta Land Trust Collaborative will balance citywide scale with local control of individual land trusts by existing CDCs.

Although on a national level the shared equity homeownership model of a community land trust (CLT) has slowly gained legitimacy over the last two decades, the model has been a hard sell in Atlanta. Two CLTs operating in the city during the late 1980s and early 1990s disbanded after a short, groundbreaking, but controversial period.

As a result, CLTs were not even considered as a tool to provide permanent affordability for affordable housing units created during the period of rapid in-town growth from the mid-1990s through 2006. Units developed during the beginning of that surge are now reaching the end of their mandated affordability period, with many already being lost to the market. This, plus the prospect of new affordability pressures due to a massive transit redevelopment project, has sparked a resurgence of interest in the CLT concept.

The Atlanta BeltLine, currently the largest urban revitalization undertaking in the country, is a $2.8 billion transit, redevelopment, and green space project in the form of a 22-mile loop that traverses 45 city neighborhoods. A significant challenge for the project is to insert this new development into the midst of existing neighborhoods without displacing residents who would like to remain. (See related article here)

While the physical development itself will displace few, there is evidence that the ripple effect of rising property values in adjacent low-income neighborhoods will displace many renters and owners from their homes. According to a study by Georgia Tech associate professor Dan Immergluck conducted in 2007 before any development had begun, public knowledge of the BeltLine project alone resulted in an increase in property values within a quarter mile of the project, particularly in low-income neighborhoods — a trend that will lead to displacement due to escalated property taxes and rental rates.

From the racial zoning during Jim Crow to the purposeful severing in two of the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, the hub of Atlanta’s African-American community, in the 1960s by the new interstate highway, Atlanta has a long history of urban development implemented at the expense of African Americans. Wary of another chapter in this history, residents of low-income neighborhoods adjacent to the BeltLine said clearly from the beginning that the BeltLine must happen with them, not to them: preventing the displacement of low-income households that wanted to remain must be a priority.

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