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Gainesville becomes a renter's market, for better or worse

A high number of resident's don't own their homes

POSTED: January 26, 2013 11:38 p.m.

The majority of Gainesville’s population is more inclined to rent rather than own property inside the city limits, a city report states.

According to the city’s community development department, 65 percent of the city’s housing units are occupied by renters, the inverse of the state’s numbers.

Other cities of similar size, including Athens and Rome, are closer to 50 percent.

“Gainesville is the hub for businesses and industry for Northeast Georgia, so there’s a huge need for workforce housing; that’s one part of it,” said Chris Davis, Gainesville’s housing programs manager. “Of course, from our perspective, we want that to be quality rental housing.”

The 2011 census estimates that city officials looked at show slightly more than 12,500 housing units in Gainesville, about 88 percent occupied. Of those units, about 3,900 are owned by the occupants.

City officials said the data sparked a city housing survey to see what kind of properties make up the rental market and what kind of conditions they are in. But the city has “only scratched the surface.”

“Obviously, we know there are pockets of deterioration all throughout the city, but until we get the results of that housing survey, we won’t really know the overall condition and where all those pockets are,” Davis said.

Gainesville has set a goal to increase the percentage of owner-occupied homes, and it is offering down payment assistance in some cases. The city even purchases vacant rental properties and sells to those looking to own.

“Hopefully the private sector will pick up on that,” Davis said. “Hopefully our investment will encourage them to invest and enhance their rental properties.”

Increased home ownership, city officials said, enhances property values and attractiveness because homeowners are more likely to tend to their property than renters.

“(Renters are) not grounded,” Davis said. “They’re not going to have the desire to improve that property. ... It doesn’t concern them what that house is going to sell for in 10 years.

“If properties are being maintained and improved, the values are enhanced. It impacts your tax base and it also makes the community more attractive for new residents and even for business.”

But some are not surprised by the numbers and don’t consider a large rental sector a problem. In fact, quality rental properties can be attractive for industry and growth, one local real estate expert said.

“I don’t see it as a detractor,” said Frank Norton Jr., chief executive officer of The Norton Agency, a regional real estate company. “I see it as a pretty good opportunity.”

Norton said more housing options provide businesses a variety of lodging and costs for their employees.

“We’re providing the business community multiple price points of homes, and that is a major attractor for the industry,” Norton said.

Norton said his agency is the largest private property manager in North Georgia and handles a number of multifamily units in the area. And, he said, if landlords are vigilant in their property’s upkeep, the value of it and its neighboring properties should not decline.

“The astute landlord who is locally connected is going to keep their houses up, too, because it’s a good, strong investment as well,” Norton said, adding there are “isolated” apartment complexes that need to be addressed.

Davis agrees, but said quality is essential in keeping the city attractive, not only aesthetically, but for economic growth.

“In a growing city, and Gainesville is growing, you obviously have that need for workforce housing, but it needs to be quality — that’s the key,” Davis said, adding that he doesn’t see the high renter population as a huge concern.

“Is it a problem? I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a problem. Obviously we’d like to see that reversed. ... I really think you have a healthier community when the home ownership is higher than the rental population.”


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