Site plan for South Park Cottages, a micro-community of homes located in College Park, Georgia.
Home ownership is considered the key to generational wealth. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to afford a house – and renting isn’t much easier.
During the 2022 legislative session, the Georgia House of Representatives established a Study Committee on Regulation, Affordability and Access to examine the challenges of providing affordable housing for Georgians and what can be done to address those challenges. According to their report, things are bleak:
- By the end of 2022, the median price for a new home in Georgia was $323,991.
- According to Habitat for Humanity Georgia, one in seven Georgians (14%) spend over 50% of their income on housing.
- Most Georgia counties have experienced at least a 40% increase in home prices from 2016-2021. Additionally, metro Atlanta has experienced one of the largest rental increases in the nation compared to other metropolitan areas with a 38% increase in rent against only 10% increase in income.
Bianca Motley Broom, mayor of College Park – a city located south of downtown Atlanta with a population of just under 15,000 – didn’t need to read the report to hear these statistics. She’s watching her citizens live them out every day.
“Affordable housing is definitely a challenge in College Park,” she says. “The majority of our population – about 75% – are renters, and many work in jobs supporting industries in and around the airport. I see people doubling and tripling up on roommates as opposed to families moving in. With rents that high, how do you get to a point where you actually can save to buy a house?”
Contributing to the dearth of affordable housing is the growing trend of institutional investors – which the House Committee defines as “publicly-traded corporations that purchase multiple properties to rent or renovate and sell for a profit, forcing Georgia families out of the competitive market.” It is projected that by 2030, 40% of single-family rental homes nationally will be owned by investors.
Motley Broom refers to them as “build to rent” subdivisions.
“We’ve had at least two developers come in and try to do that,” Motley Broom says. “It’s a growing national trend, and it’s become a huge issue for us. When we are trying to promote home ownership, this doesn’t help.”
Motley Broom says these subdivisions usually have around 300 houses and rents are around $2,500 to $2,900 a month for 1,800 to 2,000 sq. ft house.
“That’s not affordable,” she says. “These investors see this market and the ability to make money, and there are so many people who are impacted by this and left with fewer and fewer options.”
Trying to lend a helping hand
Motley Broom says the city is trying to “think broadly” about how it addresses affordable housing by coming up with a number of solutions, with mixed success.
For its employees, the city offers a down payment assistance program, providing up to $10,000 towards buying a house. They’ve also offered workshops to the public to educate potential home buyers on the process. She said they are also working with local banks to set up home buyer assistance programs. And some citizens have taken advantage of the Georgia Dream program, created by the Department of Community Affairs to make homeownership possible for eligible Georgians by providing affordable financing options, down payment assistance and homebuyer education.
A “ticket to home ownership”
Another player hoping to make home ownership a reality for College Park residents is Booker T. Washington, founder and CEO of Techie Homes, who is building a micro-community of homes in College Park.
By definition, microhomes range in size between 330 to 700 sq. ft. They are not to be confused with “tiny homes,” which are no larger than 300 sq. ft.
South Park Cottages under construction. Source: Joseph Geierman.
Called South Park Cottages, this development sits on three acres housing 29 free-standing homes between 330 sq. ft and 630 sq. ft. The development – the first of its kind in Georgia and the first black-developed micro-community – also features a park with walking and biking trails, a dog park and other amenities. Prices ranged from $200,000 to $230,000 and all units are sold. The project is 85% complete and Washington hopes residents will be able to move in at the end of March.
Washington calls this a “win-win” situation for the city and future home buyers.
“We built these on an abandoned lot that was not collecting any taxes,” he says. “By transforming the property into homes, it is now generating $150,000 annually in tax income for the city. And with monthly mortgage rates at around $1,500, it’s cheaper than paying rent. It’s a ticket to home ownership.”
Motley Broom, who cast the deciding vote when the City Council was voting on whether or not to approve the necessary zoning changes, agrees that this is “part of the solution.”
College Park Mayor Bianca Motley Broom and Techie Homes CEO Booker T. Washington provided a tour of South Park Cottages to Doraville Mayor Joseph Geierman, right. Source: Joseph Geierman.
“We have to embrace looking at the problem a different way,” she says. “And this is one way. I have to support someone who is doing something different. He has transformed that space into what will be a vibrant community. I think that is a net positive for the city, and I ‘m hoping it will spur other developers to look at that corridor.”
Washington believes this is a trend of the future and plans are underway to build a similar development in Union City.
“We are demonstrating that this is viable model in which you can transform infill lots into beautiful pocket communities within larger communities,” says Washington. “We are moving people towards home ownership.”
About the Author
Sara Baxter is a freelance writer based in Decatur, GA. She specializes in telling stories for nonprofit organizations.