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Proposal would bring affordable housing to dekalb

In 2001, households earning less than $14,000 a year spent an average of nearly $5,600 on transportation. Why? One reason is the growing distance between available jobs and affordable housing.

Taking matters into their own hands, DeKalb County Commissioners Burrell Ellis and Larry Johnson have begun working on an affordable housing ordinance. In its present form, the ordinance would require residential developments with more than 30 units to set aside 15 percent for "moderately priced dwelling units." The ordinance defines "moderately priced" as affordable for families who earn less than DeKalb's median income, which was $49,117 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The details of the proposed ordinance still need to be hammered out, but families would pay a predetermined percentage of their monthly income - no more than 30 percent - to rent an "affordable" unit.

The tricky part is how DeKalb will compensate landlords for the gap between reduced rent and market value rent.

Of course, the ordinance wouldn't exactly provide more "low-income" housing. Ellis says his goal is to offer housing options for the working class, including teachers and police officers. The ordinance does not intend to address the housing gap for part-time or minimum-wage workers, or for welfare recipients. (Yet, according to the 2000 Census, less than 1 percent of DeKalb's housing units are affordable for extremely low-income renters.)

Ellis cites as a model for developments under DeKalb's proposed ordinance the northwest Atlanta community Columbia Estates. Columbia Estates, which replaced the public housing behemoth Perry Homes and was spearheaded by the Atlanta Housing Authority and the Atlanta Development Authority, has 12 units for renters earning 54 percent or less of Atlanta's median income, 50 units for low-income public housing families, and 62 market-rate units.

There is one important difference between Columbia Estates (as well as other Atlanta Housing Authority redevelopments) and the requirements proposed under DeKalb's affordable housing ordinance. Columbia Estates resulted in fewer homes for low-income Atlantans, because it replaced existing public housing which was entirely low-income.

In contrast, DeKalb's plan is not to replace public housing with fewer units but to require private developers to provide more affordable properties.

"We are in the early stages of drafting," Ellis says. "But we wanted people to start talking about affordable housing."??





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