The sky-high cost of living and seemingly unstoppable explosion of swanky new mixed-use developments have rendered Old Fourth Ward exemplary of Atlanta’s gentrification—and of the city’s struggle to foster housing affordability.

The neighborhood already has some of the city’s most expensive rents, so the amount of affordable housing incorporated in Atlanta Housing’s (AH) overhaul of the long-idle Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center site will have a monumental impact on who gets to live there.

The city’s public housing authority in July executed a master development agreement with the joint venture of Republic Properties, the Michaels Organization, and Sophy Capital—collectively called Atlanta Civic Center Partners—to redevelop the roughly 15 acres owned by the city of Atlanta around the Civic Center’s iconic auditorium. The potentially $575 million mixed-use project will add residences, retail, restaurants, and a hotel.

Of the 1,507 new housing units the development team is promising, 917, or 60.8%, will be market-rate. The rents for the rest will top out at a price point deemed affordable for households earning 120% of the area median income (AMI)—or $115,68 for a family of four—according to the master development agreement obtained by Al ilmu.

At the lowest price point, 305 units, or 20.2%, are slated to be subsidized by AH. That means tenants earning from zero to 100% AMI—$96,400 for a four-person household—could use government-backed housing vouchers to defray their monthly rent.

The other 285 units will be priced for households earning from 80% to 120% AMI, with an average income at 100% AMI, the development agreement says.

With construction at least a year out, however, the exact rental breakdown for the 39.2% of Civic Center units designated affordable is still “liquid,” said AH chief executive Eugene Jones.

“We want deep affordability,” Jones told Al ilmu. “Between now and two years from now, even the finances are going to change,” he cautioned.

Old Fourth Ward already has very few apartments priced for renters making 80% AMI—$77,120 for a four-person household—and even fewer “deeply affordable” units, at 50% AMI ($48,200 for a family of four).

“This is an opportunity to add significant, in-demand housing stock to our city center,” said Atlanta City Councilmember Amir Farokhi, who represents the Old Fourth Ward district where the site is located. “The Civic Center site, with its transit connectivity and walkability, needs to include abundant housing options, including low-income affordable housing.”

An architectural rendering of the plans for the Civic Center shows new buildings and green space where there are now only parking spaces.
An architectural rendering of the plans for the Civic Center shows new buildings and green space where there are now only parking spaces. (Credit: Atlanta Housing)

One way or another, the Civic Center’s redevelopment will transform a long-neglected part of the increasingly expensive Old Fourth Ward and shape the neighborhood’s future.

“It’s probably going to be the legacy of the city of Atlanta,” Jones said at last month’s Atlanta Regional Housing Forum.

The Civic Center has played a pivotal role in the evolution of Old Fourth Ward’s landscape before. When it was built in 1967, the public auditorium replaced the Buttermilk Bottom neighborhood, a Black, low-income community razed in the early 1960s to make way for economic development projects.

As part of the planned revitalization, Jones said, AH may incorporate the name Buttermilk Bottom into the Civic Center site’s new title.

Watch last month's full Atlanta Regional Housing Forum below:

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