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Atlanta City and Schools Unite to Provide More Housing

Proposed legislation would give Atlanta Public Schools ownership of a 1.5-acre building parcel in exchange for a two-acre vacant property so that the city can develop housing and services for homeless residents.

The city of Atlanta, Ga., and Atlanta Public Schools are making plans to exchange publicly owned land amid the local government’s effort to provide housing for the homeless community.

City Councilmember Jason Dozier has introduced legislation to give APS ownership of property at 70 Boulevard, which is adjacent to the Hope-Hill Elementary School in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. The 1.5-acre parcel has includes a gym and greenspace that the school already utilizes, and APS plans to use it to consolidate facilities and improvements into a single campus, according to the city.

In return, APS would give the city a two-acre vacant property it owns at 405 Cooper Street SW. Mayor Andre Dickens wants to use the site to create long-term quick-delivery housing and wraparound services for the homeless.

The mayor’s office said the no-cost land swap will ensure the city can quickly work to use the site for rapid housing, a program that provides housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment, education and employment opportunities.

Dozier’s ordinance doesn’t specify if the Cooper Street site will be used for apartments, or shipping container-based housing. Instead, the ordinance states that the city’s intent to redevelop the APS property is a part of the mayor’s rapid housing initiative to deploy “quick-delivery housing options for unhoused residents,” and that the initiative will advance the mayor’s “goal of creating and preserving 20,000 units of affordable housing, by leveraging of public land assets through the participation of APS in the Mayor’s Housing Strike Force.”

Joshua Humphries, the mayor’s senior housing policy advisor, said Tuesday that the Cooper Street lot falls within the second phase of the Rapid Housing Plan, which involves redeveloping property to ultimately create permanent, mixed-income housing in downtown Atlanta.

“We saw an opportunity to leverage public land to support Atlanta’s unhoused community,” Humphries said. “We’ve partnered with Partners for HOME to work towards determining the design of the site and will work with the neighborhood on how to best incorporate the development into the existing character of the surrounding community.”

The council’s Finance/Executive Committee will consider the proposal Wednesday. The Atlanta Board of Education is set to discuss it next month.

“This is just the latest milestone in an ongoing partnership, but significant in our efforts to ensure every Atlanta resident and every APS student has stable, dignified and high-quality housing,” Dickens said in a statement.

The proposed land swap comes days after the city council ratified the mayor’s executive order to allocate $4 million toward plans to use shipping containers to rapidly rehouse homeless residents. The proposal would provide some relief to Partners for HOME (PFH), the city’s Continuum of Care provider, after it acknowledged in January that some of its rehousing programs closed due to loses in funding.

Humphries said the city wants to obtain the containers from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. The state agency used the containers as temporary hospital rooms during the pandemic.

The containers have been “occupiable structures” for the last two or three years, and the city is speaking with several companies to determine how Atlanta could retrofit the containers into housing, Humphries said. The structures would be located to a downtown parking lot at 184 Forsyth St., and Humphries said this plan could expand to other parts of the city.

“Shipping containers at this point are being used all over the world for a variety of housing types, from luxury housing to quick delivery housing for unhouse residents,” he said.

But not everyone supports the administration’s temporary housing plan for 184 Forsyth Street. The administration has sought to develop permanent mixed-income housing at 184 Forsyth St, but Kevin Murphy, a representative of the German firm Newport RE, said the city has struggled to find someone to take on that task.

Murphy said the temporary housing project would affect the neighborhood’s long-term trajectory. Susana Chavez, executive vice president of the Chavez Properties company, wants the city to give the community more information about the project before it moves forward.

Donna Salem said there are no grocery stores or pharmacies within walking distance of that location.

“Everyone wants to help the homeless certainly, but if there is no way to reach the items that are needed for everyday life, then we are not succeeding in helping them,” Salem said.

Before the council ultimately OK’d the funding for the project, councilman Jason Dozier sought to reassure the public that he’s asked the administration to host a public meeting in September to answer questions about the future of 184 Forsyth Street.

“There will be, or needs to be, additional legislation on the scope and the scale of the project,” Dozier said. “There’s more to follow as far as actual operational left and right limits and scope of what could actually happen, but that will be coming when we’re ready.”

©2023 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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