The Atlanta Land Trust hosted a groundbreaking ceremony in East Lake on Wednesday afternoon, commemorating the start of construction on the Trust at East Lake, a 40-unit development of townhouses created to provide adequate housing opportunities to lower-income residents of the neighborhood.
Members of the trust joined partnering organizations, community leaders and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens at the site of the future development, located behind the East Lake Publix on Fayetteville Road.
The townhome community is one of three multi-unit developments that the Atlanta Land Trust is building to help offset the effects of the city’s housing affordability crisis. Through the trust’s community land trust model, qualifying residents will be able to purchase a home from the organization, while simultaneously leasing the land the house sits upon. This model allows housing to remain affordable for residents with fixed incomes, while also preparing lower-income Atlantans to build intergenerational wealth and financial success.
Amanda Rhein, executive director of the Atlanta Land Trust, said that the project was the culmination of four years’ worth of sacrifice and commitment, none of which she could set into motion singlehandedly.
“This project would not have been possible without the contribution of the East Lake Foundation and the CF Foundation, who donated this land to us, and believed in us over that long, four-year period, that we could actually execute this project and implement that vision for a permanently-affordable community,” Rhein said in opening remarks.
Half of the townhome community’s units will be reserved for residents whose income falls at or below the 80% AMI threshold, meaning Atlanta residents earning less than the listed income limit for their respective household size will be eligible to pursue a long-term lease with the trust. The remaining 20 units will be available for residents whose income falls between 80% and 120% AMI.
Dickens said during his remarks that Atlanta’s housing crisis is a byproduct of its own economic success, as the city’s population is outpacing the development of new construction.
“[Newcomers] stay and we provide housing for them over and over and over again,” Dickens said. “And so it makes the challenge of providing housing [that is] less affordable, a challenge.”
Dickens also said that the new development will bring him closer to fulfilling his goal of building or preserving 20,000 total units of affordable housing across a span of eight years. The mayor said the pathway to achieving this goal will likely be slow, but sustainable.
“To date, we have delivered nearly 2,000 units over the last year and we have another 5,400 under development right now,” Dickens said. “We keep going. To get to 20,000, you’ve got to get one by one, by one, by one.”
The mayor also said he’s working to make it easier for small- and medium-scale multifamily developments like the Trust on East Lake to get approved, even introducing a streamline system that clears backlogged housing permits and prepares new projects for further stages of development.
“We have a team in place now that provides, from start to finish, guidance for permit applicants for affordable housing,” Dickens said. “We’ve reduced those wait times to permit and [the city government] intend[s] to get out of the way.”
Dawn Arnold, board chair at the ALT and chief operating officer at Invest Atlanta, said that the nonprofit’s work in East Lake will propel the neighborhood, and the city as a whole, to a more inclusive future.
“It’s not just the groundbreaking that’s important,” Arnold said. “It is really bridging the gap for  families to be able to remain in the city that they call home, to be able to talk about and live in a community that they’re invested in.”
Arnold also said the ALT’s community land trust model will greatly benefit those who will buy and live in these properties, even after they choose to move out.
“When [a resident] decides he or she, or this family – that they want to move, they have the ability to move and be able to capture some of their equity that they built up in these homes, and they’re also able to provide it at an affordable price to the next buyer,” Arnold said. “And that is exactly what the land trust model stands for.”
Larry Johnson, commissioner overseeing DeKalb County’s third district, which includes the site of the new development, said projects like this are key to instituting intergenerational wealth and providing opportunity to East Lake residents of all ages and backgrounds.
“I’m just here to support [the development],” Johnson said. “I’m glad to be here. Whatever DeKalb County can do to make sure we keep pushing projects like this.”
The development has also garnered financial support from the TOUR Championship, which will donate a portion of its record-breaking 2022 earnings to the Atlanta Land Trust and several other partnering nonprofits and charities.
“I spend a lot of time listening and attending events like this and hearing what’s important to people, and our goal at the TOUR Championship is to make a positive impact in this community,” said Alex Urban, executive director of the TOUR Championship. “This community is really about triumphing over adversity, and whatever small part we can play and try [in] helping triumph over that adversity is something that we’re really proud of.”
The Trust at East Lake is projected to finish construction in the fall of 2025.