HouseATL: Expanding efforts across five counties

By David Pendered

Feb. 8 – HouseATL has a capacity crowd of about 150 signed up for Friday’s meeting to discuss matters including the plan to expand its work in promoting affordable housing from the city limits of Atlanta to all five of metro Atlanta’s core counties.

The expansion plan calls for extending the organization’s focus from Atlanta’s borders to include all of Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties. The scope of work for a consultant states: “The strategic planning process will need to address the most effective path for this expansion.”

Money is available to support this housing approach. The latest example was announced Monday by Truist Financial Corp., with its $15 million contribution to the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta’s GoATL fund. Truist has provided a lead contribution of $14 million to a $75 million fund that’s intended to help close funding gaps in proposed affordable housing developments. The remaining $1 million is to help fund entrepreneurs in lower income neighborhoods who otherwise may not receive financing.

Natallie Keiser, executive director of HouseATL, presents a timeline of the recent infusion of funds for housing. (Credit: HouseATL)

Friday’s meeting may be a milestone for HouseATL.

Membership is at about 200, an all-time high. Truist’s contribution is expected to be the first of several that will fill gaps in the layers of financing typically used to develop affordable housing. And the six initial founders are still actively involved – Metro Atlanta Chamber; Urban Land Institute; Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation; Central Atlanta Progress; Center for Civic Innovation; City of Atlanta.

As HouseAtl Executive Director Natallie Keiser said Monday, “It’s exciting to have the enthusiasm.”

HouseATL has hired the consulting company Blaze to coordinate the visioning plan. Blaze was selected after a competitive bid process. Blaze’s two cofounders, Val Porter Cook and Elyse Klova, bring a background in guiding organizations and strategic planning.

The initial premise of HouseATL as a “coalition of the willing” is to continue as the vision is refined and the new one adopted, presumably, and implemented. The membership that now approaches 200 is to have a seat at the table in offering suggestions, according to the request for proposals. The consultants are to:

  • “Engage the breadth of HouseATL’s membership in refining actionable affordable housing recommendations for Atlanta’s civic leadership and an implementation plan for how HouseATL will help advance the recommendations. This plan should include a path forward for geographic expansion.
  • “Develop a final plan that is well written, well organized, clear and in a format that is immediately ready to be publicly shared, preferably by 3rd quarter 2023.”

Friday’s meeting is the second convening of the membership since Keiser was hired to serve as the first executive director of HouseATL. Keiser previously had worked with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Atlanta Civic Site. Keiser served there eight years as senior associate for community development as part of her about 25 years in the field.

When Keiser arrived at HouseATL, in July 2022, the organization had a fairly fluid structure. It was formed with the assistance of leaders of the Atlanta Regional Housing Forum who wanted to inject the affordable housing issue into the 2017 campaign for Atlanta mayor. The effort was deemed a success, following Keisha Lance Bottoms’ commitment to the issue. The momentum carried into Andre Dickens’ successful 2021 campaign for mayor.

The group in 2018 had formulated a call to action for Atlanta’s civic leaders. In 2019, working groups were established to advance the objectives. The pandemic arrived at the start of 2020 and, with it, turmoil in many aspects of the economy and daily life. In 2021, the executive committee decided for “formalize HouseATL as a sustainable entity and entered a relation with the Community Foundation to serve as fiscal sponsor.” The Community Foundation is to provide back-office support, according to the RFP for consulting services.

Some damaged houses can be rebuilt into affordably priced dwellings. (Credit: David Pendered)