By John Schaffner
editor@reporternewspapers.net

Perhaps it was the desire to get home and watch the election results that moved the board of Neighborhood Planning Unit B (NPU-B) swiftly through an agenda that included 14 zoning cases, discussion of some proposed city ordinances and its committee reports.

But even in the short meeting there was time to take exception to a couple of planned actions by the city’s administration.

The first was a proposed amendment to a city ordinance to allow secured storage facilities within the mixed-use residential commercial (MRC) zoning district. It also would allow as accessory uses to such facilities retail stores or offices as long as they did not exceed 15 percent of the gross facility square footage.

Led by Sally Silver, the chairwoman of the NPU’s Development and Transportation Committee, several members raised concerns that the amendment would encourage the development of warehouses, something they do not want to do in Buckhead.

NPU-B Chairman Jeff Shell said he had phone calls from several other NPUs expressing their displeasure with the proposed amendment as well.

The discussion was about to end when city planner Jessica Lavandier pointed out the NPU was required to vote on the issue that evening because it was an agenda item. That reignited the ire of the board members, who voted unanimously to oppose the adoption of the ordinance.

Lavandier also informed the NPU board that the City Council’s Community Development/Human Resources Committee will take up a plan by the city’s administration to accept a $12.3 million loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the city to buy up foreclosed homes, make whatever renovations they need and sell them as “affordable housing” units.

Several members of the NPU board, including Cathy Muzzy, who works in real estate, questioned why the city of Atlanta should get into the house-flipping business.

The new program is part of the federal $700 billion bailout of the banking system. The aim is to buy, repair, and sell or rent run-down homes and create affordable housing, while stabilizing neighborhoods distressed by foreclosures and abandoned properties.

HUD restrictions on what can be bought include allowing only bank-owned foreclosures and limiting governments to paying 85 percent of a current appraisal.

The HUD program also sets income levels on who may buy a house the government repairs. Buyers may earn no more than 120 percent of the area’s median income, which is about $85,000 for a family of four in Atlanta. Some houses must be reserved for families living on as little as $35,000 a year.

The city also would be prohibited from making a profit on any flips.

The city could run the program through its own staffers, letting them decide what properties to buy and what repairs to make, or the city could use contractors, professional flippers or local housing nonprofit groups.

Aside from voicing the opinion that the amount of money available would allow the city to tackle only a small portion of the foreclosures in Atlanta, Muzzy and others could not understand how the city believes it is capable of successfully running a house-flipping business.

The issue is likely to come up again before the NPU at its December meeting because the city hopes to get involved in the program early in 2009.