In case you missed it, Mayor Andre Dickens delivered his second State of the City address on Tuesday. Dickens spoke for just over half an hour, touching on everything from youth engagement programs and affordable housing to reiterating his support for the public safety training facility known as “Cop City.”
“Today, I can tell you that I have never been more excited about Atlanta’s progress,” Dickens said in his opening remarks. “I’ve never been more optimistic about Atlanta’s opportunities. And I’ve never been more thankful to the people who are investing in our city’s future.”
Before Dickens’ latest State of the City, Capital B Atlanta spoke to residents about what they hoped to hear the city’s top leader discuss. Cost of living, crime, gentrification, and rising rents were on the minds of locals in the lead-up to Dickens’ speech.
So, what did Dickens say and what can we learn from his comments? We sat down with local political consultant and strategist Fred Hicks to recap.
Here are our biggest takeaways.
‘Year of the Youth’
Dickens dubbed 2023 the “Year of the Youth,” a nod to an initiative he launched in January aimed at creating opportunities and a safer city for young people.
“I want Atlanta to be the best place in America to raise a child,” Dickens said. “The Year of the Youth is about every one of us — and I do mean every person, every nonprofit, every company, every government agency — coming together to show up for our young people.”
It’s a policy directive and a mantra that the city’s Black population should applaud and be encouraged by, Hicks said. He said engagement through mentoring, education, and workforce development programs are constructive ways to combat crime and help Black kids secure jobs in Atlanta’s growing tech and alternative energy sectors.
“We’re entering a new era where we’re focusing all our resources on Atlanta’s children, and that’s a good thing,” Hicks said.
Partnerships to benefit the youth
Collaboration was the name of the game for Dickens on the issue of youth engagement.
Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring and Coca-Cola Co. CEO James Quincey were on hand to show their unity and collaboration with the mayor’s Year of the Youth programs.
Quincey announced that Coca-Cola is giving $1.7 million in grants to fund Atlanta youth programs via APS, the United Way of Greater Atlanta, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, the city’s Early Childhood Initiative, and Morris Brown College.
“Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring and members of the Atlanta Board of Education, thank you for showing up for our children every single day,” Dickens said.
“We must focus on producing a steady stream of graduates offering a compelling value proposition to the future workforce for all of us, especially our children, to thrive,” Herring said.
Atlanta is a city wherein the mayor doesn’t control the school district. Hicks said past mayors and APS leaders have clashed, so Black residents should be encouraged to see Dickens and Herring working together.
“I loudly applaud Superintendent Herring and Mayor Dickens for that clear collaboration and being on the same page for our kids,” he said. “That’s unusual, and that is a new day for Atlanta. And that gives me a lot of hope.”
During his speech, Dickens highlighted the progress his Affordable Housing Strike Force has made since it was launched about a year ago.
“Last year I told you that we were setting out to build or preserve 20,000 units of affordable housing by 2030,” he said. “So far, we have delivered over 1,900 units, and have another 5,400 currently under development.”
Dickens also talked about his partnership with Tyler Perry, who in February agreed to donate $2.75 million to help Atlanta low-income seniors pay off their rising and delinquent property taxes. Dickens and Perry are working together to pay off back taxes for 700 low-income seniors. The mayor also announced a pilot program that would freeze property taxes for 100 low-income seniors.
“I want to make sure that seniors who invested in our city are able to stay here,” Dickens said.
Previously, the mayor has acknowledged getting to 20,000 affordable housing units alone won’t be enough to solve the city’s problem with rising rent prices. Metro Atlanta loses about 1,500 affordable units per year, according to House ATL, a housing affordability advocacy group.
Hicks said the State of the City Address could have been an opportunity for Dickens to challenge state lawmakers to lift their ban on rent regulation or pass a law preventing investors from buying up all the single-family homes in Black neighborhoods.
“[Dickens] talked about affordable housing, but he didn’t get at the real drivers of this crisis,” Hicks said. “What are we doing when we have these investors who are buying up and building whole communities just for rent? … What are we doing around foreign-owned corporations buying up and having whole communities in the city of Atlanta?”
Public safety and ‘Cop City’
Atlanta’s homicide rate went up each of the last three years, but Dickens said that trend is changing rapidly.
“We’ve lowered 911 caller wait times by 43%. As of Saturday, homicides are down 56% over the same period last year,” he said. “We need more than paychecks and vehicles to support our public safety personnel. We need training facilities, and our police and fire training centers have been long condemned.”
Dickens credited hiring more police officers and his youth intervention programs with reducing crime. He said police training is a huge piece of the crime reducing puzzle, which is why he’s proceeding with building Cop City.
Hicks said Dickens should have focused more on what’s being taught at the training center rather than focusing on its construction.
“I don’t have an issue with him supporting the police training facility,” Hicks said. “I just feel like he missed an opportunity to really expand the conversation, broaden the tent, and bring people into the fold.”