Mayor Kelly Girtz.
The ACC Commission committed last week to spending $700,000 on affordable housing in partnership with the Athens Housing Authority.
Under an agreement with the AHA unanimously approved by the commission Feb. 27, ACC will contribute $100,000 a year for seven years into a fund controlled by the AHA. The funding is contingent on the AHA acquiring or placing under contract a tract of land by June 30 “which shall be held, renovated or redeveloped for the purpose of providing affordable multifamily housing.” Affordable is defined as housing for “extremely low-income families” or “a qualified low-income housing project,” as defined by federal law, or housing where residents pay no more than 30 percent of Athens’ median household income.
Although the agreement was approved at a called meeting, indicating some sense of urgency, Mayor Kelly Girtz said officials had no particular property in mind—but even if they did, real estate deals are generally kept secret until the last minute. “We just want to have some funds available,” Girtz said.
Essentially, what the commission agreed to do is give the AHA back money that the AHA contributes to county coffers. The AHA pays ACC about $100,000 a year in lieu of property taxes on public housing, from which it’s exempt as a government agency. Traditionally, ACC has placed that money in an affordable housing fund, but it’s been raided over the years to pay for general government operations and now only has “a couple hundred thousand dollars,” according to Girtz. Last week’s agreement is a way to put the money out of ACC’s reach and ensure it goes toward affordable housing.
The vote came two weeks after a study revealed that almost half of Athens renters are “housing stressed,” meaning they pay a third or more of their income for housing—higher than U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines. While $700,000 might be just a drop in the bucket, the mayor and commission are likely to include millions more for affordable housing on the SPLOST 2020 project list. To put a dent in the problem, “we need to go big” by building or renovating affordable housing 25 units at a time, rather than one or two, Girtz said.