Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens, a candidate for mayor, said he intends to pursue some of the goals of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ One Atlanta Housing Affordability Action Plan. The plan, some of which he helped architect, provides a solid framework for future housing policies, he said.

“Where I think it fell short was in some of the implementation,” he told Atlanta Civic Circle in an interview.

Give the excerpt below a read to get a feel for Dickens’ mayoral ambitions, and listen to the full interview in the embedded link. And, of course, check back soon to see interviews with more mayoral hopefuls.

Sean Keenan: The next mayor is going to have a thousand issues to deal with. And we’ve got some unique ones. We’ve got what Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is calling the “COVID crime wave;” we’ve got police citizen relations, pandemic recovery, income inequality, education, the whole nine yards. A lot of the urban planning experts that I’m talking to say that we can address those issues by first addressing housing. So do you see housing affordability as a gateway to fixing some of the city’s other issues?

Andre Dickens: Yes, I do see housing affordability as a gateway to fixing a lot of the social challenges that we have in the city — economic challenges that we have in the city as well. So many social determinants of health, of stability, of educational outcomes, attainment, are all related to your neighborhood, your zip code. And Atlanta being a city of neighborhoods — we’ve got almost 200 neighborhoods — so much of who we are, and who we actually are able to become is determined by your neighborhood where you live. It determines what school you go to and what access you have to food, whether or not you live in a food desert, or if you have any kind of access to good health care. And all of those are extremely important in developing our society and to be a fair and equitable one where everybody has an opportunity. So yes, that’s my long answer. And this is this drum I’ve been beating since 2013. 

So Mayor Bottoms definitely made housing a centerpiece of our campaign, but I think there’s this looming concern that a lot of these other issues, especially pandemic recovery, have come to overshadow some of the other problems that Atlanta faces. Do you plan to make housing affordability one of the top priorities? Is it a Day 1 issue for you, and are you worried that some of the other issues are distracting from housing-related matters?

Yes, housing affordability is a Day 1 issue for me now, as a city councilperson. It will be even more of a Day 1 issue for me as mayor. And the reason why you should know that is because I think all of my major policies have all been rooted in housing affordability of some type, and most of the city’s major policies that we produced to try to fight gentrification and overcome the cost burden that housing is putting on our residents. I’ve been at the forefront of most of them, whether I initiated them or I was brought into the conversation — except for, you know, from time to time, when someone [else] wanted their own shot. And that’s something you can write, for sure. [Housing] is going to be a top two or three priority for me. Any mayor’s to be able to juggle multiple things that is at a time. So, while we’re talking about COVID, which is very important, and this is almost a 100-year issue. So it is pressing; we can’t stop progress and commitment to all of the things that citizens deserve, all because we are in the middle of a pandemic. We have to be able to do both. And not only do those two things — deal with COVID, making sure citizens are safe, and produce more affordable housing and make sure that our people aren’t displaced. But, in the third column, we have to also make sure our citizens are safe, just from regular community — just public safety, their personal human safety going to and from grocery stores and work etc. We should be able to do all of that at the same time. And my thoughts on housing affordability, affordable housing, workforce housing, however you want to call it, is that is a multi-prong approach, and I have solutions that are both in housing and affordability. And hopefully we can talk more about that, Sean, and how I see the bifurcated challenge of affordable housing — that there’s a housing part, which we have to do more of, but there’s an affordability part, which is what we have to do.

Yeah. So give me your assessment on the Bottoms administration’s housing efforts so far. Is the $1 billion One Atlanta action plan something you’re going to further? I mean, do you need to go back to the drawing board? What does affordable housing advocacy look like to you at the executive level?

Yeah, so affordable housing to me is going to look like some of the things that are in the One Atlanta plan, reminding you and others that I was there at the beginning of HouseATL, as that group came to be. And a lot of the initiatives that I put together appears in the One Atlanta housing plan, and my relationship and conversations with all those individuals have been helpful in creating those [HouseATL] recommendations. So definitely, I will want to carry through a number [of elements] of the plan. But where I think it fell short is on some of the implementation. So, for me, I’m not going to just leave it as a plan and check in on folks every six months or so. I’m going to be very intentional. I’m going to be very daily in the face of Atlanta Housing, very much in the face of our planning department and our Office of Housing, and very much at Invest Atlanta and the Beltline and all institutions around us — and very collaborative with all of the stakeholders and nonprofits that are involved. I know most, if not all, of the affordable housing developers — the private sector ones, the nonprofit ones and those that are government-related. I know them. We talk. We have phone conversations. I have helped them be able to build units of affordability, whether through policy, whether through programs or whether through good relationships, and just identifying  sweet spots in the deal flow to make that happen. It takes a lot of intentionality to take things from a plan to reality, and you just got to have a steady hand on the wheel. And me being a problem solver, an engineer, someone who cares deeply about housing affordability, I will be doing this each and every day. And I will only hire talent back and keep up with me to do this work.

Article by Sean Keenan

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