Atlanta businesspeople who’ve worked to improve downtown are formally pushing back against a $4 million proposal to erect temporary housing for homeless relief.
Led by Susana Chavez, Park Place Operations executive vice president and a member of the Central Atlanta Progress board, the opponents say they’ll attend today’s Atlanta City Council meeting to air concerns about Mayor Andre Dickens' proposed “Rapid Housing” initiative in downtown’s southernmost blocks.
Earlier this month, Dickens’ office issued an executive order to begin development of a new program that aims to help Atlanta’s homeless at 184 Forsyth Street. Plans call for using shipping containers—many of them donated by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, or GEMA—as a relatively cheap and quick means of delivering housing as part of the city’s first phase of Rapid Housing efforts.
Chavez submitted a letter to Dickens on Friday that said, in part, the proposed village of shipping-container housing “will be detrimental to the individuals and the area which we have worked so hard to improve,” according to the group’s PR representatives.
Chavez noted she’s a “strong supporter” of the mayor, but she and other detractors feel the Forsyth Street location is unsuitable for temporary housing, with seven nightclubs and no food stores within a four-block radius,
“We believe that creating temporary housing [at 184 Forsyth Street] will negatively impact what has been accomplished, including new investment in this area,” Chavez continued.
According to an agenda, the city council is expected to consider ratifying Dickens’ executive order for the homeless housing initiative at today’s 1 p.m. meeting. That order directed the city’s chief financial officer to allocate up to $4 million to obtain GEMA shipping containers (formerly used as temporary COVID-19 hospital facilities) and begin relocating and converting them to residential units as the housing program’s first phase. City officials have called the need for such housing “pressing” in Atlanta.
Today, the city-owned site in question is an underused parking lot next to the Garnett MARTA station.
According to Chavez’s LinkedIn page, her work with Park Place Operations includes “extensive experience in all aspects of planning and management of parking assets,” including developing, owning, and managing parking facilities in five cities.
The housing initiative would be a partnership with the city’s Continuum of Care—Partners for HOME, a HUD program. In announcing it in early August, Dickens’ office called the containers “a cost-effective and innovative housing option [that will] set a new architectural standard for future groundbreaking projects.”
The site, proponents noted, is located near supportive services and key amenities for people experiencing homelessness, in addition to mass transit. Plans call for Rapid Housing participants to receive wraparound assistance, including mental health and substance abuse treatment, along with help finding jobs and education opportunities, obtaining documents such as Georgia IDs, and transferring to permanent housing.
It’s not the first time the Forsyth Street property has recently made headlines.
Earlier this year, the city’s economic development arm, Invest Atlanta, received no responses from developers to a request for proposals involving the 1-acre site.
Invest Atlanta had asked in January for ideas from development firms capable of turning the underused parking lot and a small plaza next to the MARTA station into a dense mix of both affordable and market-rate apartments (at least 200 units total), in an area where few residential options currently exist—but nobody came forward. Invest Atlanta officials have told Urbanize Atlanta their eventual goals for the property are unchanged and that a revised RFP will be issued in the future.
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