A Housing Strategy for DeKalb County


Housing is at the heart of success and stability for us all. It underpins the very fabric of our lives. Whether we are talking about racial disparities, family wealth, health outcomes, school performance or policing, housing is at the nexus of it all. Put in clear terms — housing is everything.

Congress passed the Fair Housing Act of 1968 as a way to stop racial discrimination in the procurement of housing. The same way lawmakers intended the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision to desegregate our schools. Yet today, we’ve made little progress when it comes to civil rights in housing and schools. And many of our communities are more separated than ever.

The 1938 Home Owners’ Loan Corporation map of Atlanta.Credit…National Archives and Records Administration, Mapping Inequality

It’s hard to discuss housing solutions without acknowledging how it has been a tool for excluding people for decades. Richard Rothstein’s “The Color Of Law: A Forgotten History Of How Our Government Segregated America,” — a 2017 study of how segregation in America is the by-product of explicit local, state and federal policies — explored how single-family zoning has historically been a way for cities “to (use) zoning ordinances to reserve middle-class neighborhoods for single-family homes that lower-income families of all races could not afford.”

Before we can begin to undo the inequitable practices that have shaped our current housing crisis, we must first come to terms with these historical patterns of racial and economic segregation. We must tell this story to our communities to begin this conversation.

Today, homeownership is out of reach for too many families — especially Black families in Georgia. Decades of de jure discrimination by the federal government denied Black families the same homeownership subsidies available to white families. Government regulators did nothing as predatory financial institutions targeted minority communities with subprime mortgages that drained billions of dollars in wealth. The black homeownership rate today is nearly the same as it was when housing discrimination was legal. This has all contributed to an unconscionable racial lifetime wealth gap.

We are in the midst of a regional housing shortage. Our county’s housing costs have outpaced local incomes. Our rules and guidelines for community development are out of date. Homeownership is out of reach for far too many families. And renters across the county are struggling to pay their bills. Meanwhile, our seniors, long term residents, and veterans with disabilities are facing displacement. Pressures from increased development and rising property values exacerbate that threat. Our last remaining undeveloped green spaces face unencumbered clear-cutting. And most of our DeKalb residents don’t work here. Their long commutes increase traffic congestion and are a strain to work, life, and family balance

DeKalb County will grow to 1 million residents by 2050. Our next County Commissioner must focus on housing policies. By working together, we can ensure smart, sustainable, and affordable growth for DeKalb.

Progress in Clarkston

Clarkston, like many neighborhoods in and around DeKalb, is experiencing changing development patterns and housing pressure from all sides.

Here are a few ways we worked together to mitigate the negative consequences of that change.

  • We created an affordable housing trust fund — a tool for cities, counties or state governments to receive dedicated funding to support the preservation of the production of affordable housing. Housing trust funds can also be used to help with down payment assistance, rent payments, or for funding critical home renovations or energy efficiency retrofit improvements.
  • Secured a grant in partnership with the Kendeda Fund and Friends of Refugees, for nearly $250,000 in weatherization training and implementation funding for approx 50 homes. This grant will prioritize seniors with high energy burdened households.
  • We’ve led on innovative housing developments, passing the first of its kind cottage home development ordinance. This policy led the way for the first tiny home neighborhood development in Georgia. This is a “tiny” way to begin addressing the missing middle of homeownership options.
  • Expanded access opportunities for accessory dwelling units (ADUs), affectionately known as “granny flats” as a solution for aging parents to be closer to family and loved ones.
  • We coordinated with the housing authority and Department of Community Affairs to begin the construction of an affordable senior housing project next to a future early learning training and care center. This represents an intergenerational community approach to “aging in place” developments.
  • We have participated closely in the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) Housing Task Force. The strategies and policies I will advocate for on the County Commission emanate from the work being done at the regional level to address a metro-wide housing crisis through a comprehensive, regional approach.
  • Strategy Overview: Atlanta Regional Commission

In late 2019, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) launched the Metro Atlanta Housing Strategy, a toolbox designed to help local governments and communities better understand and address their housing challenges. In this report, the ARC broke the region into different categories. DeKalb County’s makeup includes:

  • 20% Submarket 7: Suburban neighborhoods with lower-to-moderate-priced housing, biggest increase in renters.
  • 19% Submarket 1: High-priced core neighborhoods consisting of mostly older single-family and multifamily housing units for both renters and owners; b) Highest proportion of multifamily units, adding an additional 11,000 since 2010; and c) Quickest increase in ownership rates among non-rural areas, albeit with only about 200 owner-occupied single-family units being added since 2010.
  • 15% Submarket 4: Lower-priced core neighborhoods vulnerable to increasing housing costs.
  • 15% Submarket 8: Suburban neighborhoods with lowest-priced single-family homes, a mix of renters and owners.
  • 13% Submarket 2: Higher-priced near core and employment corridor neighborhoods.
  • 7% Submarket 9: Lower-priced rural areas.
  • 5% Submarket 6: Suburban neighborhoods with moderate-to-higher-priced housing.
  • 4% Submarket 3: Rapidly changing core neighborhoods experiencing the greatest increase in housing costs regionally
  • 2% Submarket 5: Suburban neighborhoods along employment corridors with moderate-to-higher-priced mix of single-family and multifamily housing

Below are suggested strategies for DeKalb’s subareas.

Increase Supply

  • Adopt Atlanta Regional Commission recommendations on zoning and land use updates that would provide a greater variety and range of housing options, specifically to address density, parking requirements, building size, and the “missing middle” housing options.
  • Implement incentive-based Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance to include a percentage of units affordable to lower-income residents, with a broader range of % Average Median Income (AMI) models. Work with housing advocates to create a legislative fix allowing longer-term affordability (i.e 10 years) timelines through graduated property tax increases on new construction.
  • Leverage public land to identify priority redevelopment, affordable housing, and greenfield sites.

Preserve Affordable Supply

  • Expand DeKalb Land Bank activities.
  • Address blight and complete housing inventory with an action plan to immediately begin addressing remedies.
  • Work with the Department of Community Affairs and housing authorities to renew existing subsidized housing.
  • Create a countywide community land trust to lock in permanent affordable housing (single and multifamily), partnering with the Land Bank to acquire blighted or abandoned properties.

Reduce Housing & Transportation Costs

  • Collaborate on a shared vision across the county and municipal jurisdiction for housing and transportation costs as an intricately linked regional challenge.
  • Implement community development strategies that increase opportunities for housing within a half-mile to transit, jobs, and community facilities.
  • Expand transportation options, including transit funding, walking and bicycling infrastructure, and expanding our greenways.

Promote Housing Stability

  • Stabilize existing residents by expanding policy concerns to fixed income residents (seniors & veterans with disabilities) at risk of displacement through rising land values. Utilize Community HOME Investment Program (CHIP) funding opportunities to rehab owner-occupied homes and to build and renovate affordable single-family homes.
  • Enact flat dollar-amount homestead exemption or tax circuit breakers for low-income residents and seniors. If legislation is needed to provide this option, work with DeKalb delegation to introduce and pass a bill.
  • Work with state and federal agencies to establish revolving down payment assistance (DPA) funding programs for DeKalb residents. Leverage bank partnerships to contribute to a DPA fund using the Community Reinvestment Act as an incentive.
  • Establish anti-displacement tax fund to help eligible low-income families in at-risk neighborhoods stay in their homes by defraying incremental increases in property taxes
  • Prevent evictions due to income loss by developing policies to expand the availability of short-term and emergency solutions.
  • Expand access to legal assistance in schools to identify housing stability issues with students and parents, addressing a common challenge for some DeKalb families struggling with paying the rent, provide legal advice to prevent unnecessary or sudden evictions.
  • Pursue legislation to create a “right-to-cure” law, giving residents time to access legal assistance. In Fulton County, the Center for Access to Justice provides a staff member at the courthouse to assist eviction clients with success.

Develop Leadership & Collaboration on Affordability

  • Expand participation across jurisdictions to participate in the ARC Housing Task Force working group. Our goal should be for every municipality, county and school board to be acutely involved and participating in our shared regional housing strategies.
  • Work with the Department of Community Affairs to take full advantage of available state and federal dollars to expand housing opportunities, housing stability, and end homelessness.
  • Work Metro-Atlanta wide to develop a “gap fund” to better leverage low-income housing tax credit funds, creating more housing units and properties at more affordable AMIs.
  • Work with DeKalb Community Service Board and other community service providers to continue serving the most vulnerable populations, fight homelessness, and address issues of mental health and substance abuse in the county.

Policy Proposals for DeKalb County

  • Create a new affordable housing advisory board with all required levels of experience and expertise to do deeper analysis of the DeKalb County housing landscape and provide substantive recommendations. This board would have a regional focus and could include members from the local municipalities, school boards, health boards, nonprofits, the ARC, and local residents.
  • Create an affordable housing trust for all of DeKalb. Focus funds on down payment assistance for qualified renters, and energy retrofits to help reduce energy bills for fixed-income residents or residents with a high energy burden.
  • Develop a rental assistance program for DeKalb residents leveraging the housing trust fund.
  • Pass a Conservation Community Development Ordinance, modeled after the Pendergrast Farm project, designed to preserve 60% or greater of acreage as undeveloped or for urban agriculture or passive green space. DeKalb County’s last remaining undeveloped land is dwindling every year. Through a conservation community model, we can continue to address housing access demand, while conserving our wild areas and protect our waterways.
  • Pass a Cottage Home Development Ordinance, modeled after the Clarkston ordinance that provides appropriate design standards for building what in essence is a pocket neighborhood design. The implementation of this ordinance would be most effective in addressing blighted residential properties and in creating more affordable homeownership options for the “missing middle” of housing stock.
  • Expand accessory dwelling unit regulations to provide for the full legalization of “granny flats” to support aging in place and aging near family culture. Streamlining the permitting and water/sewer hook up process.
    –– Determine the future feasibility of a soft-loan program for ADUs to encourage more ADU construction. This financing could come with a requirement for the homeowner to set rents of their ADU of at least 60–80%AMI or below.
  • Intergenerational community development incentives to encourage new housing developments to support a wide range of incomes and age levels. Life-long aging in place concepts will support community cohesion, address the increased demand for active senior living amenities, and allow for families to age in place or nearby their loved ones.
  • Remedy blighted residential properties through predictable, recurring funding to the DeKalb Land Bank (DLB).
    –– Work across municipalities, school districts and county to voluntarily contribute 5 percent of the total amount of delinquent taxes collected (principal only) to fund the DLB.
    –– Develop a 5/50 tax recapture provision to provide additional funding
    ––Consider a “blight bond” through Decide DeKalb Development Authority to augment
    ––Engage the Community Foundation of Atlanta and other local foundations to challenge match annual Land Bank funding.
    ––Because a Land Banks primary inventory is vacant properties or structures, it will be crucial to tap traditional and nontraditional partners, such as: affordable housing developers, small mom and pop landlords, urban farming and gardening advocates, foundations, sewer departments, real estate agents, school districts, human service agencies, neighborhood associations, historic preservation groups, anchor institutions, unions and vocational schools.
  • Determine the feasibility of acquiring and redeveloping underutilized downtown parking lots for mixed-use and residential development that includes affordable or workforce housing.
  • Develop and adopt a county-wide inclusionary zoning ordinance. Potential incentives could include: Density bonus, transfer of development rights, adjustment to parking requirements, priority plan and permit reviews, reduced permitting feed, tax abatements, heigh bonuses.
  • Create and pass a Floating Zone for Green Neighborhood Development
  • Create a floating zone to encourage senior housing development
  • Pass housing non-discrimination ordinance to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, source of income, and arrest/conviction records.
  • Explore approaches to alternative living arrangements, ie., co-living, and co-housing.
  • Support Safe Routes to Schools to improve pedestrian safety and protect our children on the way to and from school.
  • Develop impact fee ordinance and use funds as part of a housing trust
  • Create a DeKalb County Land Trust with representatives from the municipalities and school board, to work county-wide.