City of Decatur: From A Children’s Home to Affordable Homes
The City of Decatur plans to dedicate $3.7 million in American Rescue Plan funds to an affordable housing project on the south side of a historic 77-acre property called Legacy Park. The City annexed the park in 2018 when, after a 10-month planning and public consultation process, it developed the Legacy Park Master Plan, also known as, #imagine77 (see Legacy Park's financing and vision below). The design and development of the soon-underway South Housing Village (SHV) project are being guided by the Master Plan’s housing addendum, which details a collaborative, inclusive and long-range approach to building workforce and affordable housing.
During its April 18, 2022 meeting, the City Commission officially approved the project, which is being developed through an intergovernmental agreement between the City of Decatur and the Decatur Housing Authority. The DHA has applied for federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) to fund a bulk of the project, which in total will cost around $42 million. When GMA staff spoke with City Manager Andrea Arnold, she said the City went directly to DHA, with whom they have a close working relationship, to be their development partner. They signed the IGA back in November 2021 to initiate pre-development activities.
According to the adopted resolution, the City’s financial commitment from ARPA will likely go towards “rights-of-way, roads, stormwater, water and sewer facilities and utility availability (such as electrical power and broadband).” The resolution also provides for an assurance by the City to preserve the project's long-term affordability.
Legacy Park’s financing and vision: With a history dating back to the Civil War, the site that is now Legacy Park started out as the United Methodist Children's Home and in 2017, after decades of land use changes, was purchased by the City. Decatur finances its ownership of the park property and services on that property through a Public Facilities Authority. Financing is through tax-exempt bonds in the amount of around $30 million as well as through a low-interest loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority. Since the Public Facilities Authority cannot provide housing, the City is acquiring from the authority the portion of the park designated for the housing project. The Master Plan envisions Legacy Park as a mixed-use site for homes, recreation and other community-gathering spaces. It already provides offices to twelve nonprofits.
Source: Legacy Park Master Plan, p.17
Phase I of the project will begin construction in April 2023, with occupancy slated for Summer 2024. Phase II of the project follows a similar timeline with construction starting April 2024 and occupancy starting Summer 2025.
Meeting affordable housing needs in an increasingly expensive city
Andrea said the City had long identified affordable housing needs and even prime areas within City boundaries for it, including Legacy Park as demonstrated in the 2018 Master Plan and its 2019 housing addendum. However, the large public investment required did not make the SHV project financially viable. That is, until the ARPA funds came along and the City, along with the DHA, found a way to leverage them alongside federal subsidies to bring the project to life.
As the Master Plan demonstrates in great detail, public consultation has driven the developments in Legacy Park and in the City at large. Engaging residents in the planning process and allowing their voices and concerns to be heard are, as Andrea describes, critical to building public trust and moving the community in a positive direction.
The SHV project will result in 132 units of varying sizes and styles that cater to those at the lower end of the income scale. According to the housing addendum, the City in consultation with the public envisioned walk-up flats, duplexes, multiplexes and overall greater density and housing diversity for the South Village. As with building types, the addendum stipulates diverse income levels for future occupants, targeting 60% to 120% of the Area Median Income (AMI). This range will aim to address workforce housing needs as well. DHA Director, Doug Foust, has said the average home will be for residents making up to 60% of AMI.
South Housing Village Concept. Source: R-22-XX A RESOLUTION APPROVING DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT COMPONENTS FOR THE LEGACY SOUTH HOUSING VILLAGE, COMMITTING FUNDS FOR PROJECT INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENTS, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
According to a Decatur Legacy Park article about the project:
[DHA] Director Faust is often heard to say, “It doesn’t cost any less to build affordable housing than it does to build market-rate housing.” If affordable rents are insufficient to cover design and architecture, site development and construction costs, financing, building management, ongoing and long-term maintenance, and more, those costs don’t just go away. The money needs to come from somewhere else.
Thankfully, through a partnership of the City of Decatur and the Decatur Housing Authority, the Decatur community will meet this challenging goal, and do so without cost to local taxpayers. Instead, the bulk of the required funding is expected to come via low-income housing tax credits issued through the state Department of Community Affairs, with additional costs covered by the city’s Federally-allocated American Rescue Plan (ARPA) pandemic funds. No borrowing of money or use of local tax revenue is planned.
Through the American Rescue Plan Act, hundreds of Decatur residents will be able to live in the centrally located Legacy Park at an affordable rate and with access to various amenities and spaces for community building and gathering.
In related news, the City also plans to invest $2 million in city-wide stormwater improvements and $3 million for an athletic track and field at Legacy Park using the ARPA funds in FY2022-2023.
Andrea Arnold, City Manager - Andrea.Arnold@decaturga.com
Decatur City Commission approves 132-unit South Housing Village design (decaturish.com)
Posted on June 22, 2022.