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An analysis of the latest U.S. Census data paints a troubling picture — one that underscores a grim future for housing affordability in metro Atlanta.
Statewide, between 2010 and 2020, the population grew by 10.6 percent, up to more than 10.7 million Georgians. The total number of housing units, however, increased by just 7.9 percent, reaching a little over 4.4 million units.
In metro Atlanta — more specifically, the 11-county region recognized by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) — the population swelled even more, rising from roughly 4.3 million to just shy of 5 million people. That’s about a 16-percent spike in the headcount over the course of a decade.
Meanwhile, the region’s number of housing units climbed less than 12 percent, from about 1.8 million units to just under 2 million.
Suburban Forsyth County experienced the most drastic population boom, ballooning more than 43 percent, from 175,511 to 251,283, over those ten years. And while its housing stock took a serious uptick as well — up more than 36 percent, to 87,581 units — that growth was still outpaced by the influx of people.
Over the last decade, the population of Fulton County, which includes most of the City of Atlanta, jumped from 920,581 to 1,066,710 people — up 16 percent — and its housing stock expanded from 437,105 to 494,006 units — up 13 percent.
Not highlighted in the Census data, though, is an even more grim reality. Most of these units are unaffordable for many people, and metro Atlanta is losing affordable residences faster than it’s producing them.
Affordable housing advocacy group HouseATL estimates the City of Atlanta alone loses roughly 1,500 affordable housing units each year. The organization also notes that rental costs have been rising far faster than wages since 2010, citing ARC research.
In fact, a recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition indicates that to afford to live in metro Atlanta or the city proper, a person could have to make almost five times the state’s $7.25-an-hour minimum wage.
City leaders, however, have said that boosting density might offer a glimmer of hope in the pursuit of housing affordability.
While the metro Atlanta region is already the most densely populated part of the state, the tired phrase “we full” rings hollow. Atlanta is flush with development-ready land; we just need to be smart about how we use it.
City planning officials recently identified nearly 900 acres of land that, according to Atlanta City Councilman Matt Westmoreland, “could have the potential to generate tens of thousands of affordable units.”
One big hurdle, though, is Atlanta’s restrictive zoning code. Most of the city is designated exclusively for single-family housing, but if Atlanta’s planning commissioner Tim Keane’s vision for overhauled zoning laws is realized, that could change.
All of the top contenders in the Atlanta mayor’s race have given the thumbs-up to at least some of Keane’s vision, which would allow for the development of more diverse, more dense types of housing.
Now, housing affordability advocates are holding out hope that a zoning code revamp can help metro Atlanta’s supply of housing begin catching up to the demand.
Have you noticed a lack of affordable homes or rentals in your area?
I think this is an important issue and one that should certainly be addressed and quickly. However, I hope we are wise about preserving our tree canopy and greenspaces as we develop affordable housing. There seems to me to be plenty of land that is either already developed and can be made more dense or is derelict property that can be repurposed.
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