This article appeared in the March 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Brookhaven’s Affordable Housing Task Force kicks off with one of its first meetings.
Brookhaven is known as one of the fastest growing cities in the metro area. Just shy of its fifth birthday, it’s also one of the youngest. With the city being in its infancy, Brookhaven leaders have the opportunity to ensure that its growth is not just fast but smart.
And, the city is looking to its residents for help with that task.
“Brookhaven’s biggest asset is our passionate, smart and creative residents who truly care about our city,” said Mayor John Ernst. “Our citizens are working with city leaders and staff, local businesses and community organizations to improve our city in innovative ways while keeping its ‘village’ look and feel.”
Recently, some 350 residents worked together in a series of workshops to develop Brookhaven’s “Character Area Study” and their recommendations are now officially part of the Comprehensive Plan—a document that guides the city when making decisions that affect Brookhaven’s distinct neighborhoods. A rewrite of the zoning code will follow and be informed by this study.
Brookhaven will also address the zoning code and explore a complex issue: affordable housing.
In October 2016, Brookhaven appointed a group of residents and area experts to provide affordable housing recommendations to the city council. The move was encouraged by a group of local religious leaders who signed a joint letter to the city last summer, expressing concern over the effects of gentrification on their congregations—stating that many long-time Brookhaven residents were being displaced by rising housing costs.
The 13-member task force, which includes representatives from the Housing Authority of DeKalb County, Greater Atlanta Homebuilders, local clergy and interested residents, among other industry experts, plans to issue a report this spring, in time for the zoning rewrite.
At the first meeting, the group appointed David Schaefer, director of Policy and Advocacy of the Latin American Association, as chairman. Schaefer said he has faith in the group’s ability to produce viable recommendations.
“We have a diverse and talented group that appreciates the enormity of the task,” he said. “Affordable housing is about more than apartments; it’s single family, potential for secure homeownership, accessibility and integration. We are looking at all available assets, and exploring leveraging financial resources and incentives that will attract both for-profit and not-for-profit developers to present solutions that are workable for Brookhaven.”
The group began with a deep dive into data analysis. Brookhaven’s demographics present a tremendous household income range, posting some of the highest in the state, offset by low to moderate incomes. The area is dominated by family households, a stable and young demographic.
Density is centered along the Buford Highway corridor, where, according to the 2014 Buford Highway Improvement Plan & Economic Development Strategy, rental housing represented 66 percent of the housing market. Lower income families have been attracted to the affordable rents, accessible transportation and strong job market here since the 1980s.
Affordability concerns have heightened as those very characteristics have made it one of the most exciting draws for metro area residents and builders alike. The area is experiencing a boom, as the decades-long trend of suburban settlement is seeing a reversal and Americans of all ages begin to migrate back to urban centers.
Brookhaven has yet to develop any comprehensive affordable housing policies into its city code. Now that the task force has mastered a crash course on demographics, potential funding streams, builder incentives and policy alternatives, they are moving intently toward crafting recommendations on affordable housing for the city council.
Brookhaven City Manager Christian Sigman, and Community Development Director Patrice Ruffin joined the task force at their February meeting. The two offered expertise and guidance on incorporating the group’s experience and knowledge base into a comprehensive document for the city council that could potentially guide the upcoming zoning rewrite.