Despite the announcement last week that the Atlanta BeltLine would try to raise $7.5 million to encourage affordable development, two prominent members of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership Board turned in their resignations Monday, citing concerns that not enough attention is being paid to equity and affordability, according to the Saporta Report.
One of those members, Ryan Gravel, is the urban planner who proposed the BeltLine concept in the first place. Nathaniel Smith, the other resigning board member, is the founder of the Partnership for Southern Equity. The Atlanta BeltLine Partnership (ABP) is the private sector organization responsible for fundraising, advocacy and affordability on the greenway. It works with the Atlanta BeltLine Inc., the public entity in charge of implementing the project.
In a letter announcing their resignation, Gravel and Smith said the original vision was one of inclusivity, and that the ABP’s role should be to ensure people of all income levels can continue to live on all parts of the 22-mile corridor. But, they wrote, “while there have been success stories that we can be proud of, our coalition’s progress has not been commensurate with the scale of the challenges at hand.”
“The recent announcement of $7.5 million from TAD bonds, for example, will likely support fewer than 200 affordable units out of ABI’s obligation to 5,600 — it is a drop in the bucket when compared to the need,” they continued, referring to the affordable housing units promised by the city. Only 560 of 5,600 have been built to date, even as housing prices have begun to rise all along the corridor. “As the economy roars back to life and growth in the city accelerates, this work is increasingly urgent and we feel strongly that our attention must be channeled directly toward it,” they wrote.
“I know there are a whole lot of things we can be doing,” Gravel told the Saporta Report. “The issues around affordability and equity are complex, and there’s no silver bullet. It’s also very urgent, but I don’t see a sufficiently urgent response.”
Gravel and Smith cited other disagreements with the ABP, including around its governance and priorities. They expressed concern that former executive Chuck Meadows had been let go without the full board’s approval, in a way that lacked transparency and accountability. “If you say the BeltLine is about community engagement and community voice and about equity, we have to live by those values,” said Smith. “We can’t say that and do something else.”
They also wrote that the Partnership has emphasized fundraising above all, including above affordability. “This is an incredibly complex project, and it’s hard to point fingers,” Gravel said. “The outcome and the end result is that we are not doing enough. There are a lot of things we should be doing. The board should be much more aggressive and involved on this issue. The Partnership has always given much more attention to fundraising.”
Both Smith and Gravel said they still support the BeltLine, and that they make their departures with a heavy heart. Both said they plan to be more involved now that they’re independent. In a statement, the ABP’s chairman expressed disappointment at Smith and Gravel’s departure, and a hope that they would continue to work together.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.