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Here's how hard one group says it is to find affordable housing in Hall (Hint: Really hard)
Panel says businesses suffering, offers four short-term suggestions to address issue
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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

Households making less than $60,000 per year are being squeezed out of affordable housing in Hall County, and there are no affordable two-bedroom apartments for those making $35,000 or less.

Those were a couple of the more somber findings from a panel that explored affordable housing locally, presenting a report to the public Tuesday, March 12, at the Gainesville Public Safety Complex.

The group, a “technical assistance panel” with Urban Land Institute, a global land-use think tank, gave an overview of their March 11-12 visit to Hall, including meeting with public officials and conducting a driving tour of the area.

The panel, made up of professionals in design and development, talked about the community’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to affordable housing, which they said was more about housing affordability at different income levels than subsidized housing.

They also broke down what it means for households to be “cost burdened” — any household spending more than 30 percent of their total income on housing. Those spending 50 percent or more are “severely burdened,” the panel said.

At the event, sponsored by United Way of Hall County and Jackson EMC, the group ended up giving several recommendations of how the community can address affordable housing issues, including these four that can be done within six months to a year:

Education and outreach

The group suggests finding ways to explain to residents the benefits of housing in a spectrum of housing prices.

“I don’t think we can emphasize that enough,” panelist Bruce Gunter said. “I know it’s not very sexy, but it would be important to put some money and time to get this right, to dispel the stereotypes, to talk about … the economic competitive advantages that Hall County could garner from having a range of affordable housing tiers.”

Chamber taking leadership role

Panelist Amanda Rhein said the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce should push the issue of affordable housing.

“Without the backing of the business community, we’re not going to get a whole lot of traction (on the issue),” she said. “More specifically, we feel like … this is an economic development issue. Businesses are currently struggling, and will continue to struggle, to attract and retain employees if those employees have no place where they can afford to live.”

Keep supporting housing authority

“We were really impressed with the leadership that was demonstrated by the public sector, so that’s an asset you have an opportunity to build on,” Rhein said. “We recommend continuing to support the collaboration of those agencies and the leadership of the (Gainesville) Housing Authority and the work they are doing.”

Focus efforts on a potential housing area

Specifically, officials should look at an area that could trigger more revitalization. Steps that would need to be taken include identifying the site, developing an inventory of resources to help with the effort, and then bring in a consultant as part of a formal request to attract development partners.

“We identified Midtown (Gainesville) as a potential area of focus, but there certainly could be other areas in the city or county,” Rhein said.

The group’s work will be put together in a formal document in about 12 weeks, the panel said.

“Some of (Tuesday’s report) is stuff that we know,” said Joy Griffin, United Way of Hall County’s president and chief professional officer, after the event. “I’m sure there were a few things that may have been a blind spot to us. I’m still processing some of what was shared.”

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