Rethinking Housing

Recently, I attended the Georgia Housing Conversation at the Georgia Aquarium sponsored by Georgia Power with members of Hart County’s Chamber of Commerce. Hartwell is not the only community facing housing shortages as industry grows, and it was important to hear from experts in the field about innovative ideas to solve the problems associated with obtainable and workforce housing shortages. This meeting was followed up by Hart County’s Housing Taskforce just a few days later. At this meeting, Dr. Jeffery Dorfman of the University of Georgia, gave a compelling lecture about the realities of creating new housing. This blog will report about what I found most interesting. Dr. Dorfman started his lecture by saying there are three types of economic growth: “1) some growth will come to matter what, 2) some growth will be missed no matter what you do, and 3) there is a middle ground that can be impacted by policy choices…this will decide your fate.” This sentiment was echoed in the Georgia Housing Conversation.

I want to tell you about Cost Burden. HUD defines cost-burdened families as those “who pay more than 30% of their income for housing” and “may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation, and medical care.” Add in the cost of transportation, getting to and from work, many people are spending 50% of their household income on housing and transportation alone. In my mind, this describes a best case scenario. Many people may have student loan and credit card debt on top of that. This creates incredible strain on personal economies, especially because housing costs are rising as much as 42% while income is increasing at only 10%.

So what do we do? One thing is stop limiting options. Yes, you may not want to live in a duplex or quadplex, but that doesn’t mean somebody else might not want to. The point is allow for zoning that doesn’t restrict options. Another thing could be as simple as reviewing codes and ordinances for outdated restrictions that hinder development. Third, don’t reinvent the wheel. Many solutions exist in “the good ‘ol days” that people often wish for. Cottage courts, granny suites, and guest suites are making a comeback to solve workforce housing problems. Our College and Career academy is turning out high school graduates that are making $20 an hour. Let’s give them a place to live in town so that paycheck stays here too. Fourth, approximately 2000 households are needed to support a vibrant downtown. Walkability to and around downtowns are what baby-boomers, millennials, and Generation Z want, let’s give it to them. This reduces the cost of providing services to the community by the city and county. Finally, addressing density through lot size distribution. This doesn’t mean shrinking lots necessarily, it just means using what you have more efficiently.

It would be impossible to squeeze two days of discussion in a blog. I have already ran long as it is. If you would like to continue the discussion on housing, or if you are a developer and want to come to Hartwell, give me a call.

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