Funds

Should city use affordable housing trust fund for a different problem?

Legislation pitched at the end of an Atlanta City Council meeting on Monday would, if adopted, divert $500,000 earmarked for affordable housing initiatives to something else—food insecurity.

The resolution by City Councilmembers Liliana Bakhtiari, Matt Westmoreland, Jason Dozier, and Jason Winston would award $500,000 from the city’s new affordable housing trust fund to Wholesome Wave Georgia, a nonprofit that aims to provide fresh produce to people relying on SNAP benefits.

Although many Atlanta communities, particularly those in food deserts, struggle to access fresh, healthy, affordable food, using funds specifically dedicated to the construction and restoration of affordable residences for a food nonprofit instead has raised questions, as the city grapples with a worsening housing crisis.

“On its face, this appears to be a clear undermining of the purpose of the housing trust fund,” said Dan Immergluck, a Georgia State University urban studies professor known for scrutinizing the city’s housing policies. 

“Certainly, food insecurity is a critical problem,” he added in an email. But Immergluck also pointed out that the city council explicitly designated the trust fund for housing when it passed a measure creating it last year.

“This is not that,” Immergluck said. “The need for affordable housing is greater than ever. The city council set this policy and now appears to be backsliding against it. This is tremendously discouraging.”

The proposed appropriation to Wholesome Wave Georgia would amount to almost 7% of the housing trust’s $7.3 million in initial funding for fiscal year 2023, which started July 1. The trust is “for the construction and preservation of affordable housing,” according to the 2021 enabling legislation. 

The trust fund draws 1% from the city of Atlanta’s $734.2 million general fund this year, and that portion will gradually increase each year until it receives a full 2% in fiscal year 2025.

Bakhtiari, the legislation’s lead sponsor, said the city’s finance department decided where to find the $500,000 for Wholesome Wave Georgia.

“Their reasoning for sourcing it from anti-displacement [funds] is that they see fighting food deserts as a form of preventing displacement,” they said in a text.

“I’m asking finance if we can donate from a different funding source,” Bakhtiari added.

Atlanta finance department officials did not respond to Atlanta Civic Circle’s requests for comment by publication time. 

Still in its infancy, the legislation is liable to change as it works its way through city council committees before a full-council vote.

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