In the wake of a scathing newspaper investigation, Atlanta Beltline CEO Paul Morris is stepping down. Brian McGowan, a lawyer and former head of Invest Atlanta, will replace him, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.
The announcement from Mayor Kasim Reed’s office comes a month after the Constitution and the Georgia News Lab published a story suggesting that the organization was light years away from its affordable housing goals, and the blame was at least partially internal. At the time of publication, only 785 units had been funded and around 200 of those units were still under construction. Atlanta BeltLine originally promised 5,600 units by 2030.
“BeltLine Inc. kept units that it funded affordable for only a short time; decreased spending on affordable housing as the city entered its current housing crisis; and even passed up on millions of dollars of potential funds,” the AJC partnership reported. “The untapped funds were enough to more than double the project’s affordable housing budget, the investigation found.”
What’s more, by 2012, BeltLine Inc. had begun to collect double the revenue originally projected from a tax allocation district, according to the report.
Morris will be stepping down on September 11, according to the mayor’s office. According to Atlanta Loop, however, Morris’ job has been a topic of speculation since Mayor Reed said that the BeltLine needs a leader who is “committed to affordability as a first thought and not an after-thought” shortly after the July newspaper investigation.
In 2016, two Atlanta BeltLine Partnership board members stepped down, also citing affordable housing concerns. Ryan Gravel, the urban planner who proposed the BeltLine concept in the first place, was one of them. He says he sees the current shakeup as an opportunity.
“I’m excited about the opportunity for the Beltline to move back toward the vision we’ve been talking about all this time — one that prioritizes the people and communities that made it possible in the first place and one where implementation is not up to one organization, but is a partnership between partners working toward a larger, shared vision,” Gravel told Atlanta Loop. “This is especially important for affordable housing — there are so many people and organizations that want to help.”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.