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Buy on the BeltLine, get up to $64,000 | News

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Buy on the BeltLine, get up to $64,000

ATLANTA -- It's a spark of activity in the middle of the housing slump. Put down $1,500 and get up to $64,000.

The Atlanta Development Authority's downpayment assistance comes through the BeltLine Affordable Housing Trust Fund (BAHTF). It's a massive incentive aimed at populating the Atlanta BeltLine. The 22 miles of old railroad circles the entire city; it means more than two dozen developments on the BeltLine are eligible for this money.

It's a three-step process. First, you have to learn about the assistance. You're required to take a home-buying seminar. You'll have to lay out your spending habits to see if you can afford to be a homeowner. Seventh-grade teacher Rodriguez Johnson took advantage of the incentive when he bought a condo at White Provisions off Howell Mill Rd. "They really made sure you were prepared to be a buyer. They took you through the process and the all the terminology," he said.

Second, get pre-qualified through a list of approved lenders. In a single or double household, you have to make less than $68,300. A family of three or more can make up to $78,545. The purchase price limit is $252,890. Participants can receive up to 20 percent off the purchase price ($50,000) down payment assistance. It's considered a soft second mortgage with a zero percent interest rate. No payment is required if the homeowner stays in the property for 15 years. Also, buys must contribute $1,500 of their own money.

Last, Find a home. It must be within the Beltline Tax Allocation District. Click here for an easy-to-use list, but search carefully. Some of the properties are too much and wouldn't qualify at their listed price.

The incentive includes development in some areas of Atlanta that have been neglected for a long time. It appears to be working, at least on a small level. The Atlanta BeltLine says 42 families have taken advantage of the ADA incentive. To find out why it could transform areas of Atlanta, 11Alive took a look from three different perspectives: an Atlanta BeltLine official, a property developer, and a new homeowner.

James Alexander, Housing Director for the Atlanta Beltline

"There are a lot of people in this economy that do not have the kind of savings to invest in a home, and so the downpayment assistance product really made that home purchase workable for them," Alexander said. It's also a vital link in the vision of the Atlanta BeltLine. The group's goal, published on their website says "the Atlanta BeltLine is an integrated approach to land use, transportation, green space and sustainable development that will create a framework for future growth in the City of Atlanta." This summer, there has been a significant jump forward in park and trail development. The housing aspect has been growing more slowly.

"It's really important," Alexander said. "For the transit component to be as successful as it could be, we need more people living along the Atlanta BeltLine. Also, we see the Atlanta BeltLine as a community. In order for parks to continue to be safe, in order for restaurants to continue to open and thrive, we really need to make sure that people are living along the project."

Matt Bronfman, Director of Jamestown Properties

The Jamestown portfolio includes White Provisions on Howell Mill Road and Ponce City Market (the City Hall East project), "The BeltLine will be transformative for Atlanta," Bronfman said. He said the properties being connected to the BeltLine wasn't the sole reason they invested, but it was a major factor. "We think both properties provide a unique story of the opportunity to turn old space into something new," he said. "And that's really appealing to people right now."

The White Provisions condo building broke ground during the recession and still has units for sale. "No doubt, the Atlanta residential market remains very, very challenging," Bronfman said. "But being on the BeltLine does offer you some competitive advantages." Part of that advantage is the ADA incentive, which several buyers in White Provisions have used to move in this summer. "It has been a meaningful difference-maker for us," he said.

Rodriguez Johnson, New Homeowner

Johnson is a seventh-grade teacher in Lawrenceville. "I've lived in Atlanta long enough, I knew I wanted to travel the opposite direction from rush hour traffic," he said. "Plus, I'm from here. I wanted to live in town." Johnson said the ADA incentive was a driving force in becoming an owner. "I heard a radio ad; I think it was with [mayor] Kasim Reed. So, I looked it up online and used that list as a starting point." Rodriguez said he was determined to be a homeowner and probably would have bought somewhere, eventually, but the incentive allowed him to buy in a safe and hip area.

"Living in the city, there are so many properties that are so expensive, so with this downpayment assistance, it allowed me to live in town comfortably, in a nice, quality place," he said.

Housing Bust?

Since the housing market crash, huge incentives have been viewed with skepticism. 11Alive asked Alexander, "Aren't these huge incentives to lower income households what got us into so much trouble during the housing bust? What's the assurance the homes won't be foreclosed when families can't make the payments?"

"We make sure people can afford the monthly payment for these loans, we also require them to take a homebuyer class," he said.

Johnson said he went through the process and vouched it was built to ensure people did not get in over their heads. "I had to prove my income. I had to prove it was mine. I had to provide a budget to show my monthly spending. They really helped me figure out how much house I could afford," he said.

The money for the downpayment assistance came from the first issuance of Atlanta BeltLine Tax Allocation District (TAD) bonds in 2008. Every Atlanta BeltLine TAD bond issuance provides 15 percent of net proceeds to the affordable housing trust fund. The total generated from the first bond issuance for the trust fund was $8.8 million. In all, $1.5 million is currently set aside for the downpayment assistance program.