Image: Only expensive single-family homes are now legal in most of Atlanta. Source: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/e91c43ad299a4634add2bed4cf2eca9d
Anyone that has lived in Atlanta for more than a couple of years has likely noticed the sharp increase in cost of living, particularly when it comes to housing. According to the Urban Displacement Project, about 50% of all Atlanta neighborhoods have experienced a sharp rise in housing costs (classified as an increase above the regional median) between 2000 and 2017. To put this into context, the American Community Survey (ACS) estimates that the median rent in Fulton County, Georgia in 2008 was $950 while in 2019 the median rent was $1200--a 25% increase. While rent has steadily increased across the country, Atlanta’s sharp increase in median rent outpaces the rest of the country and a substantial portion of this may be attributed to green gentrification.
Green gentrification is understood to be the process in which environmental greening results in increased local interest and as a result higher property values and rents. In the context of Atlanta, green gentrification is clearly tied to the BeltLine—a 22 mile multi-use trail connecting many neighborhoods in Atlanta. While the BeltLine’s original tax funding agreement specified that 5,600 units along the trail were to be made affordable, only about a third of those units were made affordable. Furthermore, “affordable” is defined by the federal government as a household paying no more than 30% of their income—the issue with this however is that income is based off of a city’s Area Median Income (AMI). AMI does not take into consideration the drastic income distribution throughout Atlanta meaning those living in the poorest neighborhoods will not benefit from this affordable housing simply because it is just too expensive. The lack of genuinely affordable housing included in this project became so drastic that Ryan Gravel, the BeltLine project’s originator, resigned from the project in protest. As with most American cities, income disparities across regions of a city are linked with race and Atlanta is no exception.
Much of Atlanta’s BeltLine extends into low income and historically black neighborhoods resulting in a very quickly shifting demographic throughout the city. As rent prices soar and property taxes increases, many of the original people living in these communities are being priced out and displaced. For example, the black population in Old Fourth Ward (a historically black neighborhood) was 76% in 2000 (while the white population was 16%) with a median household income of $19,614. By 2015, the median household more than doubled while the black population shrunk to 49.5% accompanied by an increase in the white population to 39%. It’s clear that as Atlanta continues its rapid development, it comes at the expense of many historic neighborhoods and communities in the city. There are many solutions to this issue ranging from housing subsidies targeted towards low-income communities, redefining affordability, or simply prioritizing the construction of truly affordable housing. While many local politicians campaign on this issue knowing its importance to Atlanta residents, there is often little delivery on campaign promises. However, the more Atlantans grow aware of the issues associated with gentrification and displacement, the more likely we are to see local politicians center the communities that are in need of help.