Metro Atlanta's answers for the housing crunch

Atlanta has been a region typically known for its affordable housing stock and rapidly-growing suburbs and exurbs. But a new study being released in Atlanta this week chronicles affordability in the region and finds that not only is there a dearth of affordable housing, there is a disconnect between affordable housing and its major job centers.

While median prices may be lower than many other metros, the region still doesn’t have nearly enough affordable housing for its workforce, especially when high transportation costs are factored in as jobs and housing move farther apart and roads fill up with more drivers heading to and from the fringes. A home may be affordable but less than desirable when located at the end of a 2-hour commute.

We asked yesterday how we will respond as “the housing market is slowing, home sizes are tapering off, we are commuting farther, waiting longer to marry, having fewer children, and paying dangerously large shares of our income for housing.”

To that end, the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership will release a survey this week of the affordability crunch in Atlanta—not a pretty picture—but also offering tangible solutions for providing more affordable housing in a way that puts people and housing close to jobs in varied housing types with mixed incomes.

Click to download the 2004 ANDP reportThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution covered the upcoming release with a column by Maria Saporta, and a guest op-ed by Sharon Gay, a member of the ANDP, which produces the report through the Mixed Income Communities Initiative. (last year’s report at right)

While Atlanta has made some gains since the last such survey in 2004, the city still doesn’t have nearly enough affordable housing for its workforce. And to boot, there is a gross mismatch between the places with the jobs and the places with the housing. Maria Saporta writes:

For example, two-thirds of all new houses being built in metro Atlanta are single-family detached homes while 58 percent of the population either lives alone or with only one other person. So we are building homes we can’t afford as the recent foreclosure crisis painfully demonstrates. At the same time, many local governments restrict the development of apartments or multifamily residences, which would make their communities more affordable and viable to the general population…In the total 10-county Atlanta region, there’s a shortage of 174,582 residential units affordable to people earning $35,000 or less.

Sharon Gay, an attorney in Atlanta who chairs the Mixed Income Communities Intiative, writes in the AJC that such a “perfect storm” provides the perfect opportunity to “redevelop declining commercial or underused land near job centers as walkable neighborhoods with a variety of home types for a range of income levels and lifestyles.”

Rising costs to travel back and forth to where the affordable housing is located are pushing some Atlantans towards foreclosure as they try to keep up with worsening congestion and transportation costs, helping Georgia crack the top five in states with foreclosures.

“Many working families would like to do what more affluent Atlantans are already doing, and move closer to job centers,” Gay says, but numerous barriers stand in the way of many projects that would put more housing on underutilized land in or near the city, of which there is a huge amount, according to research from Georgia Tech. She makes four recommendations on behalf of ANDP to ensure that any redevelopment considers affordability:

• Local jurisdictions should identify appropriate redevelopment areas and change their zoning to encourage, not prohibit, these walkable, mixed-income neighborhoods.
• Working through the regional planning agency, localities should plan both housing and transportation together.
• Local jurisdictions should require that a portion of public funds raised for large-scale redevelopment projects (often through tax allocation districts) be set aside to create affordable housing. This is a critical tool in creating inclusive communities.
• Establishing trust funds to accommodate affordable housing should be a top priority for local jurisdictions. Subsidy sources are essential in offsetting high land costs to make affordable housing work.

Metro Atlanta builds on plans for affordable homes
Why build the homes if people can’t afford to buy them and live comfortablyAJC
Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership