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Could Atlanta fund affordable housing near transit with a parking tax?

MARTA bus stop on Marietta Boulevard

As was recently reported in StreetsBlog, Nathaniel Smith of the Partnership for Southern Equity is leading a campaign to have MARTA funding diverted to housing. He wants to see  5 percent of the money that MARTA is taking in from the new City of Atlanta sales tax get diverted to a fund for affordable housing near transit called the “Living Transit Fund.”

You may recall that Nathaniel resigned from the Beltline Partnership board, along with Ryan Gravel, last year over concerns that  not enough emphasis was being given to issues of equity and affordability.

There’s certainly been a lot of pushback against the idea, with internet chatter revealing anger at the thought that the referendum that approved a new tax only for expanding and enhancing transit services would be tapped, as worthy as the goal may be.

A particularly interesting and thoughtful comment came from Tom Weyandt who served as the Senior Policy Advisor for Transportation for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. He worked in urban planning, transportation and more for many years and is now retired.

I asked for and received his permission to publish it here. Please note that this is an overview of his ideas on the topic and that he was typing this out “with his thumbs” as he told me. Nonetheless, it’s smart and worth a read.

From Tom Weyandt:

“The MARTA tax increment was clearly meant to support expansion and operation of transit within the City of Atlanta. (I will leave it to the lawyers to decide whether the approach suggested to use the funds for housing would even be legal under the law – I am addressing only the policy approach.)

We all know that transit is severely under-funded — including the fact that there is virtually no meaningful State investment in transit, unlike almost every other major city in the nation.

So this revenue is it, full stop. (And we have not even considered that the federal government is likely to be making a major pull-back from transit funding.) Why should we use these very limited funds to do something other than transit?

Now, it is also pretty obvious that Atlanta has extraordinarily low parking costs. One can park a block or so off Peachtree Street downtown for less than the monthly MARTA pass. I’m not sure what the current numbers are – but last I saw there were about 9 parking spaces for every vehicle in Atlanta – I stand to be corrected on that – but parking is plentiful and cheap here.

Parking is indeed both plentiful and cheap in Downtown Atlanta

So, my modest proposal is the obvious: to impose a parking tax the way at least 49 other major cities in the nation have. These taxes range from a high of 40% of gross revenue to a low of 3% — with most in the 18-20% range. Assuming we hit the average it would yield about $30 million per year at minimum.

Now we take that revenue and split it. Half goes to the creation of an affordable housing trust fund (remember the MARTA increment will be in place for over 40 years, so that is an on-going revenue source — something on the order of $600 million.) That trust fund would yield substantially more than the proposal to take the money from the new MARTA increment. The other half of the revenue — another $15 million per year at minimum — would go to a fare subsidy for every transit trip that begins and ends in the City of Atlanta.

New fare technology makes this easy to accomplish. So the result of the above is that MARTA keeps the revenue the citizens approved, commuters who drive have an incentive to shift to transit (improve congestion anybody?), we get more efficient land use, a housing trust fund is put in place with substantial resources and transit users who travel within the City get a better deal — probably helping folks who are transit dependent especially — and may live in those new affordable units.”

— End of Tom’s comment

What do you think of Tom’s idea? Visit our Facebook Page’s post about this to leave a comment. Our purpose in sharing this is not to take a stance, but to start a conversation about all the possible routes for putting affordable housing near transit.