ATLANTA — As Atlanta BeltLine Inc. gets closer to completing the vision for Atlanta’s 22-mile pedestrian path, many have questioned whether expanding mass transit along the once abandoned rail system is still an option.
City leaders and Atlanta BeltLine Inc. began the project years ago with promises of green space, economic growth, transportation and affordable housing.
In August, BeltLine leaders announced the route for the Northwest extension of the BeltLine.
Now that the land is mapped out and affordable housing goals are on track, ABI says it is still looking to expand transit.
Channel 2′s Justin Farmer spoke with the Atlanta BeltLine’s CEO, Clyde Higgs.
Higgs said the organization set a goal of 5,600 affordable housing units by the year 2030. Right now, they are ahead of pace.
“Our goal was to do 320 units for the year of 2022. We’re already at 373 units,” Higgs said.
The BeltLine uses revenue from its tax allocation district, private donations and local, state and federal grants to buy property.
“Part of the challenge is how long are these units going to stay affordable? One of the things that we’ve done from a BeltLine perspective is acquire big sites of land,” Higgs said.
Atlanta BeltLine Inc. aims to provide housing for families at 60% of the Area Median Income or less. The Department of Housing and Urban Development defines “low-income limits” as less than 80% of the AMI.
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HUD calculates the number by region every year. In 2021, metro Atlanta’s AMI was $86,000.
“We will have units as deep as 30% of area median income and the reason we are able to do that is we actually own the land,” Higgs said.
Channel 2 Action News also got insight from the Atlanta Regional Commission. ARC works with leaders in 11 counties across metro Atlanta on a range of issues, including housing.
The organization said the issue of housing is much broader than Atlanta’s city limits. Policy changes that may help residents in Buckhead will likely not work the same in Cherokee County.
The housing challenges vary by jurisdiction. ARC works with policymakers and elected leaders to tackle the issue on a hyperlocal level by providing data and suggesting solutions.
Higgs told Farmer that recent private donations have given them line of sight to be able to complete the 22 miles of Atlanta’s BeltLine by the 2030 deadline. The next step for the project is transit.
Channel 2 Action News spoke with BeltLine visionary, Ryan Gravel. The idea for the pedestrian loop was born out of his thesis paper at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
“I really just wanted to graduate. But, I never imaged we would actually build it,” Gravel said.
Gravel explained many community leaders, neighbors, and others took part in creating something special.
“It also became a housing project, a parks project, an arboretum, public art… all of these other things got layered onto it and made it better,” he said.
Gravel said he believes transportation is the missing element to connecting Atlanta communities using the BeltLine.
“If you’re carrying a heavy load. If you’re in a wheelchair, if it’s raining or snowing late at night or you’re going a long distance, it just doesn’t work”, he told Channel 2 Action News.
Gravel also lives along and uses the BeltLine. He now has his own development and city design companies that work for with cities.
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