ATLANTA — Keeping the city of Atlanta running during a COVID surge presents its own unique challenges and Mayor Andre Dickens has had to dive right into them since taking office 15 days ago. In a roundtable discussion with reporters upstairs in city hall, he tackled some of the community's top concerns including the record-setting soar in housing prices in 2021.
“I’m bringing everyone in and I’m sharing my vision and looking them in the eye, saying that as it relates to housing affordability - this is a can’t lose, must-do goal," Dickens explained.
The mayor added that he is working with state and federal housing officials to build mixed-income housing on vacant land owned by the city with his eyes on areas like the former Civic Center site near Inman park and the former Bowen site adjacent to Carey Park. He said he plans to build at least 20,000 housing units in the next eight years.
Another challenge Mayor Dickens is facing is the surge in COVID cases in metro Atlanta, brought on by the omicron variant. City hall had to revert back to fewer people inside the building, but Mayor Dickens hopes to fully reopen later this year with the goal to have 100% of city employees vaccinated.
“We’re up to 73% of city employees being vaccinated. So, we’re trying to make sure we can get as many people protected and boosted in our workforce and that help us get to opening more," he said.
The pandemic has also created complications for the homeless with encampments growing in Buckhead and Midtown in the last year. The mayor said that people may not be getting help because some shelters require a negative COVID test. However, he’s seeking ways to address that by asking shelters to remove barriers.
“A meeting that I’m having today with homeless shelter providers is to reduce the barriers. Not having an ID or having an ID should not mean you don’t get into a shelter. Having a COVID test or not having a test should not mean you don’t get into a shelter, we can give you a rapid," explained Dickens.
The mayor also added that he is working with shelters to extend their intake time later into the evenings to expand access for more people.