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New report says Atlanta has greatest income disparity in America

The dubious title comes as Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announces a major step in her promise to create affordable housing in the city.

ATLANTA — It's a title no city wants, but Atlanta has it - the city with the greatest income disparity in America.

What does that mean? Nowhere in the country is the pay gap worse between the rich and the poor than here in our city - and it's the second year Atlanta has earned the dubious honor.

Several Fortune 500 companies call Atlanta home with executives earning top dollar. Meanwhile, about 22 percent of people live in poverty according to the latest census information.

And while 18 percent of households make more than $150,000 a year, nine percent make less than $10,000. That income gap is leading to a growing call for more affordable housing in Atlanta - and a lot of promises being made.

Bryant Wright, walking along the Beltline, said that after renting for years--working in I.T., and, he says, making a good living--he just managed to buy his first house in Atlanta. He has just one word for it.

"My experience is kind of brutal," he said. "Because everything is so expensive now."

How brutal? He said closing the deal cost him and arm and a leg, requiring him not only to spend down his savings, but also his retirement account.

"So, I did half out of my savings and then half out of my retirement fund," he said.

And that's what it's come down to for many, just to buy a home in this city.

"For me, I wanted something at least 2,000 square feet," he said. "Then, depending on where you want to live within the city, it's roughly putting you close to a half -million dollars to live within the city of Atlanta with that type of square footage."

It's tougher than ever for singles and even more difficult for families. 

Across town near another part of the Beltline, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who ran for office promising to make sure people of all income levels would be able to live in the city, was announcing a plan to transform an old apartment complex into a showplace for lower-income residents--using $60 million from a public-private partnership.

"There is so much work to be done," she said. "We are one step closer to achieving our goal of $1 billion towards affordable housing in the city."

In fact, the mayor has announced a series of affordable housing developments since she took office, leveraging tens of millions of dollars from private and public funds. The buyers and renters who qualify are those who make less than Atlanta's median household income. Right now, that's about $52,000.

Make more than that, and you're on your own and, for people like Dinah Greenidge, that means you're priced out of the city.

"Yeah, it's real frustrating," she said.

The advertised rents for apartments in the city, for studios and one-bedrooms, hover at around $1,300 a month. And for two and three bedrooms, the rents are more than many pay for a mortgage.

Greenidge has lived in metro Atlanta for 23 years, since she was 10. She works two jobs and makes a good living she said. She said she loves the city and the Beltline but can't afford to live there.

"If you're not making six figures a year or more, it's pretty hard to find a place," she said. "There aren't any options, like, you pretty much have to rent a room at this point."

She said it's a great place and she would love to see more people able to enjoy it--not just those with income in "certain brackets," as she put it, who earn so little they can qualify for subsidized units, or those who earn so much they can afford Atlanta rents and house prices.

At the mayor's event Thursday, she announced $60 million in new funding for affordable housing in partnership with Atlanta Housing and Invest Atlanta. Those funds were approved by the Atlanta Housing Board on Wednesday.

"This is a prime example of what can happen when government, the private sector, and our nonprofit partners join together for the common good," she said.

The mayor's office announced that the funds are projected to create and preserve more than 2,000 new affordable housing units in the city.

Her goal to raise a total of $1 billion would result in producing and preserving a total of 20,000 units of affordable housing in the city by 2026. Right now, Mayor Bottoms said, the city has reached about 20 percent of the overall goal.

Funding will also go toward several new and ongoing affordable housing programs, such as multifamily gap financing, small urban infill financing, and a heritage owner-occupied rehab program.

"Today represents the new era of cooperation among our public and private partners that will help Atlanta remain a place where working families, and residents at all income levels, can afford to live and build their dreams as we become One Atlanta," the mayor said.