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Nonprofit is raising $50M for affordable housing on Atlanta’s westside

By July 24, 2023June 13th, 2024No Comments


Funds raised would help develop about 500 more housing units in neighborhoods near Mercedes-Benz Stadium

The Westside Future Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing Atlanta’s historic westside, has set a goal of raising at least $50 million over the next year and a half to to expand affordable housing near Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“This is our final push of fundraising, but we’re building on a lot of prior success,” John Ahmann, president and CEO of the Westside Future Fund, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Launched in 2014 by then-Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta Committee for Progress, the Westside Future Fund (WFF) is focused on revitalizing five neighborhoods: English Avenue, Vine City, Ashview Heights, Atlanta University Center and Just Us.

The nonprofit works to keep legacy residents in a historic area of the city that has seen massive transformation with the Beltline and Mercedes-Benz Stadium while also redeveloping parts of the neighborhoods blighted from years of neglect, de-population and exploitation.

So far, WFF has built or is currently building around 400 units of single-family or multi-family affordable housing. The nonprofit has also acquired around 36 acres in English Avenue and Vine City. In 2022, WFF raised $8.7 million in charitable grants and public funds, according to the group’s year-end report. Over the years, WFF has also received donations and loans from various corporations in Atlanta, including Chick-fil-A, Delta Air Lines, Home Depot and Cox Enterprises, which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

But WFF has plans to develop about 500 more housing units and the latest fundraising push would help reach the finish line on those projects.

Ahmann and his team have set a working target to have $50 million to $55 million in philanthropic and public grants committed by the end of 2024. WFF estimates that’s what is needed to complete the units the affordability they want. The target is based on the cost of already-completed projects and a forecast of real estate market conditions.

“We try to make sure that there’s enough philanthropic equity in each of those projects, that someday down the road, when we have to go refinance these projects … we’re not put in the position of being like, ‘Oh, well, we can’t do that. We can’t afford this mortgage unless we jack up rents 30%.’ The goal is explicitly not to do that,” Ahmann said.

WFF has multiple initiatives to provide housing at affordable rates to westside residents. Through the Home on the Westside program, people who live, work or go to school in the five supported neighborhoods have access to below-market rents and down payment assistance.

Potential homeowners who make less than $77,120 are eligible for up to $60,000 in down payment assistance from the nonprofit. For legacy residents who own their homes, WFF has a specific fund to freeze and pay property taxes.

Ahmann and other WFF officials say that in addition to projects directed by the nonprofit, other groups combined have built or are planning nearly 2,000 new or refurbished housing units in the five westside neighborhoods.

A legacy resident returns

For Dallas Smith, helping revitalize the westside is personal.

Smith is the founder and CEO of commercial real estate brokerage T. Dallas Smith & Companyand chair-elect of the WFF board. His term starts at the beginning of 2024.

On Friday, at a summit WFF holds monthly for neighborhood residents and advocates, Smith told the room he is “Atlanta-born, Atlanta-bred and when I die, I’ll be Atlanta-dead.”

Smith was raised in the Hunter Hills neighborhood in the 1960s and 70s, where he said neighbors knew one another and there was a strong sense of community. But in 1976, when was 14, his parents moved the family to College Park.

“[Hunter Hills] was paradise and moving to College Park — we were the first black family on the street — it was a rude awakening,” he said.

Now as part of the WFF board, Smith hopes to help restore the sense of community he knew in the westside, where a mixture of wealthy, middle class and poor people lived together, looking out for one another.

“How do we return to that? How do we restore back to a real Beloved Community?” Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, referring to Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of how people could live among one another.

And for Smith, one answer to that is by returning to where he grew up. Decades after moving away, he now has his own slice of that paradise he said he remembers. Two years ago, he bought the former home of civil rights activist and businessman T.M. Alexander in his childhood neighborhood of Hunter Hills. He hopes to begin renovating within a month.

“I’m excited, even in the condition the house is now,” Smith said. “The only way I can explain it to you when I’m on that piece of property, it’s peace. It’s peace. It’s about being home.”

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