The Brookhaven Planning Commission chairperson wants the City Council to require a “workforce housing” mandate throughout the city in future multi-unit housing and not just along Buford Highway as part of the zoning ordinance rewrite.

A current draft of the zoning rewrite includes the middle-income housing mandate, also known as inclusionary zoning, only in the proposed Buford Highway Overlay.

Planning Commission Chair Stan Segal.

Chair Stan Segal made his proposal at the Sept. 5 commission meeting. Other members backed his recommendation, saying it could put Brookhaven at the forefront of finding innovative ideas to address the lack of affordable housing many cities in metro Atlanta are facing.

“I think this is an opportunity to make that statement,” Commissioner Michael Diaz said.

But the city could face a fight from outside forces. Aaron Johnson, the Government Affairs Director of the Atlanta Commercial Board of Realtors, attended the Sept. 5 meeting and voiced opposition. The ACBR is a professional trade organization that lobbies on behalf of its 2,200 members.

Developers and real estate professionals understand affordable housing is a major issue that local governments in metro Atlanta and around the country are trying to address, Johnson said.

“But the issue we have is with the word ‘mandatory,’ ” he said. “That word will be difficult for the real estate industry.”

He said offering incentives to developers to build affordable housing is a better way to try to address the issue and offered to work with city officials to develop the incentives. He also cautioned the city from trying to implement a mandatory workforce housing provision in the zoning code throughout the city instead of one area of the city.

Johnson said doing so could be detrimental to people who may be able to afford housing in a particular neighborhood thanks to a workforce housing mandate, but then not be able to afford to live in that neighborhood because necessities are costlier than what their income supports. “Like with gas and groceries … gas on Peachtree is more expensive than in other areas,” Johnson said.

The city is defining workforce housing in the zoning rewrite as households earning no more than 80 percent of the median household income from the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area. That’s currently about $68,000. Census data numbers used by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development puts household income levels right around Buford Highway at closer to $50,000 per household, according to city data.

The Planning Commission deferred Sept. 5 voting on the zoning rewrite draft until its Oct. 3 meeting. City staff is taking the time to incorporate Segal’s proposal into a revised draft.

The Buford Highway Overlay draft ordinance states that whenever the city approves a special land use permit for rezoning within the overlay and the property is developed as a residential housing project, then 10 percent of the units must be classified as workforce housing.

A residential housing project is defined as either a new housing development, rehabilitation of a current development or the conversion of rental apartments to condominiums.

Kirk Bishop of Duncan Associates, the consultant working with the city on the zoning rewrite, explained 10 percent was determined to be a good figure for the city to begin with as it develops policy around workforce housing. If approved, the city can then “road test” the percentage for a while before possibly considering a higher number.

The proposed overlay includes incentives to developers to build more workforce housing. Developers can get approval for one additional story for each 10 percent above the mandatory minimum. For example, 20 percent of workforce housing means one additional story; 30 percent workforce housing means two additional stories.

The workforce housing units must remain workforce housing for at least 20 years, according to the proposed draft.

The Peachtree Road Overlay approved by the council in January and folded into the zoning rewrite also addresses workforce housing by offering developers height incentives if their projects include at least 20 percent workforce housing.

To see a draft of the zoning code, visit brookhavenzoning.com.

Update: This story has been updated to clarify the Planning Commission is only seeking to mandate affordable housing units in multi-unit residential developments.