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Atlanta Scrambles to Fix the BeltLine's Affordable Housing Failures

The missteps along this massive rails-to-trails project could provide key lessons for the city’s future growth.
The BeltLine is falling so far behind that it may not be able to reach its affordable housing requirements at all.
The BeltLine is falling so far behind that it may not be able to reach its affordable housing requirements at all.David Goldman/AP

When Atlanta set out to build the BeltLine in 2005, it had an ambitious goal: Turn a 22-mile railway that surrounds the city’s core into a multi-use trail and park—and ensure the development alongside it makes space for affordable housing.

In the nine years since the first segment opened, the plan has been praised widely for its efforts toward sustainability, transit, public health, and urban revitalization. But housing has always been a struggle. The city required Atlanta BeltLine Inc., the organization that manages the project, to fund at least 5,600 affordable homes along the trail when it’s completed in 2030. By 2015, however, it tallied just 785 affordable units. In July, an investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that BeltLine is falling so far behind that it may not be able to reach the requirement at all, and some affordable units that had been funded have already disappeared: