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Why lack of affordable housing in Hall County is such a crisis
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Crews lay sod at the new 784-home Del Webb Chateau Elan in Braselton as its first phase off Thompson Mill Road in South Hall is complete. Home prices start at $274,990. - photo by Scott Rogers

A study of housing in Gainesville and Hall County has found many families are cost-burdened by their rent or their mortgage, few affordable options exist and there is a “missing middle,” or a shortage of housing for middle-income families.

The study, conducted by the Urban Land Institute in collaboration with the United Way of Hall County, found that 43.2% of Hall’s population is cost-burdened when it comes to housing. While the area has many job opportunities, job growth will bring more people to the area, straining existing housing resources, utilities and infrastructure, according to the report.

The study divides Hall’s population into income tiers, with about 40% of the county’s population being classified as low-income and unable to afford a house costing more than $135,000. But the study also found that just 3% of new construction homes in Hall were priced under $200,000, and the average selling price of a home in November 2018 was $291,000. To avoid being cost-burdened, a household would need an annual income of $87,300 to afford the average selling price of a home. The median household income is $55,622, according to U.S. Census data.

That means that people in many professions cannot afford the average home price — including more than 10,700 workers in the food manufacturing industry with an annual average salary of $34,746, more than 12,600 workers in health care and social assistance with an average salary of $53,958, and deputy sheriffs and police officers with average salaries of $35,000 to $41,000.

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Sarah Kirsch, executive director of the Urban Land Institute Atlanta, speaks during a housing forum at Gainesville Municipal Court on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. The community meeting focused on challenges and solutions to affordable housing locally. - photo by Austin Steele

“It’s not just families at the lowest ends of the income scale that are finding it increasingly difficult to locate adequate housing. The missing housing product for entry-level homeowners, first responders, teachers and other lower-paid professional also must be addressed,” according to the report. “In recent years, most housing starts in the community have been either single-family or large scale multifamily, with little options in between.”

Vanesa Sarazua, founder and executive director of the Gainesville-based Hispanic Alliance GA, said a shortage of affordable housing in the area leads families to live together, putting multiple families in one home. Many are just barely getting by, she said.

“There’s not enough resources to address or just sustain and support those families on the verge of losing the house or the rent that they have. I also have seen families that perhaps are living with family members, and their time has expired being with that family member, something happens to the family member, and that’s how they also end up homeless or without a place to stay,” Sarazua said. 

Housing struggles can also split up families, Sarazua said.

“We’ve seen families that perhaps their kids are taken into (Department of Family and Children Services) custody, and in trying to work their plan, they don’t have options of where they can rent to be able to work that plan and get their children back,” she said.

Jessica Dudley, president of the United Way of Hall County, said housing instability affects many aspects of a person’s life.

“Housing is definitely an important piece for anyone. It goes back to how children are doing in school, and if they have stability at home,” Dudley said. “It could be the conditions that they’re living in have repercussions on their health. I think it does affect folks in a variety of ways.”

Even if housing is available, not everyone will qualify for it, Dudley said.

“It can be an issue if the person doesn’t have good credit or if they have some type of criminal history that maybe would disqualify them for different locations,” Dudley said.

Hispanic Alliance GA Executive Director Vanesa Sarazua - photo by Scott Rogers

Also, the Gainesville Housing Authority has a wait list of 1,400 families, and the list has been closed for more than two years, according to the report.

Income requirements can also be a barrier for people who don’t have the money at the time, Sarazua said.

“Income requirements in different housing projects are deterrents to being able to help those that are in between jobs or don’t have an income at the moment or are looking for jobs,” Sarazua said.

The report found other barriers to affordable housing in the area, including NIMBY-ism, or “Not in my Back Yard,” a mindset “from residents who fear lower-end housing and higher-density development, especially if they are rental units, will lower property values, overcrowd the schools, cause more traffic congestion, and create more problems than they solve.”

There can also be a disconnect between business leaders and people struggling to find housing, according to the report.

“We have school buses in Gainesville picking up 30 kids at a time at some extended hotels, and yet, we’re in a culture where our leaders and the rank and file don’t even want to use the

word affordable housing,” one stakeholder said in an interview.

However, the report did identify along the Midtown Greenway as an area with the potential to support affordable housing.

Some government programs are also available for assistance, including the Community Home Investment Program, which helps qualifying homeowners fix up their homes.

“That assists actual current homeowners in upgrading their home and making their home more energy-efficient, gets them back in compliance with potential code violations, makes sure that their home is safe,” Zach Propes, the county’s financial services director, said.

The Neighborhood Stabilization Program makes affordable housing available for purchase to low or moderate-income qualifying buyers.

“That actually takes unoccupied homes that are foreclosed, blighted or even vacant lots, and we either make repairs to the home or we completely renovate the home or even build a new structure,” Propes said. “…That not only provides a quality home for that individual or that family, it also provides a quality home for that neighborhood, area or community and gets that property back on the tax digest.”