The Sandy Springs Diversity and Inclusion Task Force recently said the city has failed to follow up on pressing housing issues, including never forming an affordable housing committee. 

Olivia Rocamora, the chair of the task force’s housing and transportation subcommittee, told the group that the City Council rejected inclusionary zoning in a comprehensive plan update in 2017 with concerns about multifamily housing creating economic dependence. At the time, Mayor Rusty Paul proposed creating an affordable housing task force.

The Diversity & Inclusion Task Force began meeting on March 9 on goals set by Mayor Rusty Paul.

“That Task Force, unfortunately, was not created. Nine months after, a revitalization of the North End committee was created,” said Rocamora, who is also the Spanish Department chair and Spanish Immersion program coordinator at The Weber School.

She said in a meeting with Paul and task force Chair Jim Bostic she challenged the idea that affordable housing was in conflict with home ownership. Her family moved to Georgia from Cuba in 1970. They used the time spent living in affordable housing to save for a down payment on their own home.

“If you talk to a lot of these families, they will tell you that they are dying to have the kind of savings to put a down payment,” she said.

Paul directed them to city staff to learn about proposals in the task force’s draft housing report.

Those include Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding that could be reallocated for affordable housing initiatives. But that can’t be done until current sidewalk projects using CDBG funds are finished.

Another initiative is an economic development incentive policy for affordable housing. Developers who allocate a certain percentage of their units for affordable housing could take advantage of the incentives.

“Since its creation in 2017, unfortunately, no developer has taken advantage of these incentives,” Rocamora said. The city plans to look at those incentives and beef them up.

Rocamora proposed the city create a Housing Department instead of designating a staff member to review development proposals. This change came after Assistant City Manager Kristen Smith told her that staff implement code, not evaluate it.

“If we can protect our natural resources, we can protect what we called NOAHs, which are naturally occurring, affordable housing,” she said. Rocaomora said the community needs to view old apartment complexes as an endangered species and create a housing department to help preserve them.

“I think that’ll be something really, really big for Sandy Springs to develop, is that department for housing, and really looking into how can we create housing affordable for all people that live in the city. Or that we want to live in the city,” said task force member Jose Osorio, assistant principal at Lake Forest Elementary School.

Other suggestions in the housing report include requiring that all housing development proposals explain how they will impact the sites.

To protect those NOAHs, the task force suggests that city require developers renovating older complexes to preserve 30% of the units as affordable for families making $50,000 a year for 20 years. The units must be a mix of one to three bedrooms.

Housing incentives should extend beyond the North End, the housing report said. Incentives to providing workforce housing should include lower tax rates to developers. Taller buildings should be permitted to create more density and possibly increase profitability for developers. 

To get those incentives, the housing report said developers would need to designate at least 25% of units for renters earning $50,000 or less, with guaranteed pricing for 10 years. If the city purchased the property to trigger development, 30% of the units should be for workforce housing.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.