The next mayor has a moral imperative to address poverty and inequality in Atlanta. Affordable housing is essential to tackling these challenges. One of the keys to an effective housing strategy is flexibility. As factors such as demand from developers, local incomes, the character of a neighborhood, and proximity to transportation shift, we need every policy option at our disposal to find the optimal solution for everyone.
Our city is undergoing a multi-year re-zoning. We can use this opportunity to move towards a truly multimodal city. Since its inception, ThreadATL has been vocal in encouraging city leaders to reduce parking minimums. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to making zoning changes and change parking minimums, particularly near transit-oriented development.As mayor, I’ll have developers put the cost savings from building fewer parking spaces into building more affordable housing units. If negotiated fairly, this suits all parties. Low-cost housing options preserve communities and prevent displacement.Also, in Atlanta, every few years we bring up the idea of a parking tax. The best way to effect change is to build incentivizes and disincentives to change people’s behavior in a way that achieves your goals. A parking tax can help address our reliance on cars. It’s no secret traffic is getting worse year over year, even as our population is expected to double or even triple in the next two decades. The actions we take today will determine our city’s future livability.
Atlanta’s financial model faces a fundamental challenge: We are one of the few major U.S. cities that does not receive significant state funding even as we support a swelling daytime population. This requires us to find creative funding mechanisms to address the challenges we face, especially considering we serve as the region’s hub.
As mayor, I will consider a parking tax to generate an anticipated $40 million in annual revenue. This provides a tremendous opportunity to address our infrastructure backlog, prioritize walkability, and make a livable, vibrant city.
As a pro-bono consultant to Mayor Franklin, I led the team which wrote the city’s first economic development plan in many years. In it, I laid out a path to foster development in the long-term, beyond one mayor’s four or eight-year term. I also stressed the need to look at these matters through a wide lens.
In addition to Invest Atlanta, the mayor has significant control over other city governmental agencies, including the Atlanta Beltline and the Atlanta Housing Authority.
As mayor, I will focus on addressing these silos by including the city’s planning department in making sure the Return on Investment of public dollars from Invest Atlanta – and other public entities – reflects the design and build standards we set as a city. We should make these standards publicly available so developers and other stakeholders are clear on what we expect as a city and how it impacts our collective quality of life.
The city made the right decision shifting oversight of the Atlanta Streetcar from City Hall to MARTA. And I was heartened to hear that the existing employees will keep their jobs after the transition to MARTA ownership.
If built and managed effectively, light-rail-transit could contribute greatly to the mobility of our city. The streetcar’s high passenger capacity, ease of use, and low level of emissions could help reduce traffic and provide an environmentally friendly transportation option. But, these positive outcomes will remain unrealized so long as the project exists only as a 2.7-mile downtown loop. That’s why expansion is the key to light rail’s long-term success. As mayor, I will support the growth of the Atlanta Streetcar on the Beltline and other areas (e.g. a dedicated right-of-way to Emory) to improve connectivity across the city, particularly east-west connectivity.
To fund this expansion, I will work with MARTA to ensure the responsible distribution of T-SPLOST funding along with potential matching federal funds. As we allocate dollars for the design, build and operation of rail on the Beltline, I am open to public-private partnerships to make transit a reality in the near-term. Public-private partnerships could potentially cut timing in half and reduce costs.
Successfully executing these projects will require a mayor with the qualifications and management experience to effectively handle complex projects. As Chief Operating Officer of Atlanta I managed about 8,000 employees. In my career as a management consultant, I helped consult some of the world’s largest companies improve operations. This executive experience demonstrates that I have the expertise to manage complex multi-billion dollar projects. In a field of career politicians, I stand out with a proven track record of success not just in government, but also the business and civic sectors. This background sets me apart as the most qualified candidate to bring diverse stakeholders together and build wide-ranging coalitions.
Atlanta is notable for its audacity to dream big. That’s what I think attracted many people to the idea of the Beltline in its infancy. It was such an ambitious thought that we had to realize it. That’s who we are as a city. We think big and stretch the bounds of ambition as we create our future.
Developing the Gulch provides a tremendous opportunity to revitalize south downtown. I’ve lived in a number of other major cities and have always been surprised at the untapped potential of our downtown. While an entertainment area within walking distance of our convention and central business district has merit, we should also focus on attracting significantly more residents and retail to downtown.
If done right, we can again serve as a national leader when it comes to re-imagining what a space can be – whether it’s unused rail line, or an abandoned quarry, or the clashing of two seemingly contradictory design goals.
Yes, dedicated bus lanes for bus-rapid-transit or more traditional bus service can have a significant impact on mitigating road congestion and encouraging bus ridership. I will hit the ground running on infrastructure early in my administration. I will encourage MARTA to increase the number, frequency, and scope of its bus network. When people don’t have to wait 40 minutes between trips and can get more places by bus, ridership will rise. Another way City Hall can better partner with MARTA on bus service is to ensure we prioritize traffic signal optimization so buses are not slowed down by red lights.
Population growth patterns mean we must prioritize many modes of transit and other transportation tools. In addition to larger scale projects, another transportation matter we need to tackle is putting the city’s traffic lights on a central grid.
Both levers feed into the same solution of a more de-congested, livable city for all. That is an overarching goal I am committed to.
To borrow from author Mark Pendergrast, Atlanta is a “City on a Verge.” Whether we are on the verge of choking on our own success or becoming the world class city we aspire to be is an open question. Among other issues, we have a booming population and an unsustainable income disparity. Fortunately, we have up to $14 billion in infrastructure dollars coming online and are about to re-zone the city for the first time in decades. If used with intention and care, these tools can be the solution to the challenges Atlanta faces.
Re-zoning is particularly relevant to this question. Through thoughtful zoning and iterative local feedback we can make blight a less common occurrence. Re-zoning gives us the chance to decide where and how we want to grow. For example, there are blighted areas across the city with abandoned, empty “big box” developments.
For City Hall to work, we need constant community input. We also need to reform our Neighborhood Planning Unit system so that it has the teeth it needs to effectively function as originally envisioned by Mayor Maynard Jackson. This also means more City Hall staff support for NPUs.
To that end, I will make sure the various city departments work in tandem so that we can find cross-department solutions to ongoing challenges such as blight. As an example, I like what Philadelphia has done. Many blighted properties are re-purposed as green space where it makes sense. This solves a two-fold problem Atlanta faces: Blight and a shortage of park acreage.
My campaign headquarters is located in the historic Odd Fellows Building, in the Sweet Auburn district. Once a vibrant corridor for African American-owned businesses, in recent years, the thoroughfare has struggled to live up to its reputation. Historic abandoned buildings abound, lying in wait for reinvestment and revitalization.
As mayor, I will commit to ensure we redevelop historic areas and ensure we protect and preserve their rich history. This is why land trusts are a core element of my platform. We need them to occupy the critical space as protector of our city’s history. Our shared history is intrinsic to our shared identity. If we grow and develop carelessly, we will forever lose elements of what make Atlanta such a special place to live, we will lose that central identity. As mayor, I will not let that happen.
In addition to the physical preservation of our city, we must also preserve the character of our neighborhoods. Our city is expected to double or even triple in population in the coming decades. What we do now will shape the Atlanta of the future. The city is already in the early stages of a multi-year complete rezoning. How we approach this rezoning will make a significant impact on housing affordability. For example, allowing Accessory Dwelling Units in certain areas and reducing the required number of parking spaces at transit-oriented development, we can increase the number of affordable units.
Additionally, we must do more to ensure affordable housing units remain affordable for 20, 30 years or more. Preservation-centric options such as Community Land Trusts and Inclusionary Zoning will be a priority, as well as more funding through Housing Bonds.
Making Atlanta a better place for pedestrians is as much a question of public safety as it is of infrastructure. You should be able to walk to your local park and feel safe. Our children should be able to get to and from school without any fear for their safety. The same holds true walking to and between modes of transit.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I attended a vigil for a woman and mother who was killed at Piedmont & Morosgo, steps away from the Lindbergh MARTA station. She was waiting to cross the street to go to her job at Kroger when she was struck by a car. It was a terrible tragedy and it brought to light – yet again – the need to improve pedestrian safety. We know there are far too many pedestrian – and vehicular – deaths in Atlanta. Complete Streets – and wide, safe sidewalks – are an important component of moving towards Vision Zero.
MARTA has hundreds of bus stops in the city; however, they do not all have dedicated bus shelters or bus seating. Some stops are two feet away from the street, providing the rider with little to no protection from traffic. One simple solution is to make it easier and more convenient for MARTA to request easements for the installation of bus shelters and seating. Additionally, all transit-oriented development should be accessible by multiple modes, including walking and bicycling.
We must make sure the current Renew Atlanta Infrastructure Bond is spent transparently and wisely and any new bond issuances create new sidewalks and repair existing ones as well. It is easy to get distracted by the next mega project, but it’s often the little things like sidewalks or dog parks that mean the most to people on a day-to-day basis. We have to get these projects, which are small in scope but large in impact, done right.
I spent my career as a management consultant advising some of the world’s largest and most complex companies. The most effective leaders are collaborators, people who find the win-win and don’t make negotiations just about winners and losers. That’s the leadership style I have exhibited throughout my career, including my time as the city’s COO.
It involves making difficult decisions and working from the unenviable position of having to make the hard calls and at times tell people no. But that’s what leadership is. You have to be comfortable operating in that central role where everyone’s interests come together unevenly, where you pick up a few bumps and bruises along the way pushing to finding common ground. When I say on the campaign trail that Atlanta’s mayor should be its convener-in-chief, this is what I am talking about.
We must make sure the community’s voice is heard and that we’re not incentivizing development that runs counter to our values and goals. It touches on the ongoing citywide debate on how to best balance growth and livability. As mayor, I will make sure to hear all sides and opinions in an effort to find the right answers.
To do this, I will empower communities by ensuring that they have input through institutions such as NPUs and Neighborhood Associations, as well through more direct conversations at community events and town hall hearings. I am confident that a compromise can be reached because I believe that in the end, we must be a city that listens to and respects one another.
A livable community attracts relocation in-town, and in turn demand for development. Meanwhile, development and growth give communities the resources to improve livability. It’s the mayor’s job to illustrate this point. And that’s what I will do.
I am committed to using all appropriate tools to increase affordable housing supply. As mayor, I will enact a comprehensive plan based on four primary criteria: preservation, coalition-building, versatility, and intentionality.
Preservation. Conditions permitting, the city should pursue policies that allow residents to retain property ownership in some form. This is feasible where the right amount of leverage – built through factors such as density, relative demand, and Area Median Income – exists. Under these circumstances, inclusionary zoning and Community Land Trusts are two great tools to address the dangers of rising property value
Coalition-building. We should look for every opportunity to seek out non-profit partners such as Community Development Corporations to help carry the load. We can also provide incentives to attract new developers to Atlanta with specializations that fill a particular need. Attracting companies that focus on community-based affordable apartment complexes for seniors is one such example.
As mayor, I will focus on removing the silos and convening our public-sector partners, including the Atlanta Beltline, the Atlanta Housing Authority, Atlanta Public Schools, Invest Atlanta, and MARTA, along with the development community and other stakeholders to find sustainable solutions to our housing challenges.
Versatility. The key to impactful housing decisions is the ability to adapt as conditions dictate. At certain income levels, you may not find partners for development. That is where you turn to levers such as tax abatements or rental rehabilitation. The Housing Opportunity Bond has also yielded good outcomes in this space. I will look into an expansion of that program with the provision that we place practical limits on funding bonds to guarantee the fiscal strength of our city.
And finally, as mayor I will reject the false choice between growth and inclusion. We can achieve both if we use the criteria laid out here as a lens, if we act boldly and with intention.