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Local families feel stuck as cost of renting climbs
Stephanie Acevedo
Stephanie Acevedo

Home in hard places

A series on affordable housing issues in Hall County and Gainesville. See more stories, interactive maps and videos at the above link.

As rental rates climb, two Flowery Branch families feel stuck in the middle.

Ricky Acevedo works at ZF Industries, Stephanie is a stay-at-home mom and 2-year-old Emma is a bright-eyed, energetic child. They live in a singlewide trailer in Flowery Branch and are the picture of a happy family, but they want to own — or at the very least, rent — a brick-and-mortar house.

Shawna and Damon Bennett have two kids — a girl and boy, ages 3 and 1. They’ve been renting a small, two-bedroom home at $825 per month in Flowery Branch for more than three years. During that time, they’ve been trying to find a new place for almost two years with no luck. They need something bigger, but said they’re limited by the rising cost of rent.

For these families, home costs in Hall County make the American dream feel a little more like a pipe dream. It’s not just the Acevedos and Bennetts. Local real estate executive Frank Norton Jr. said affordable housing is “a growing problem” in the Hall County area and rent will likely only get more expensive.

Norton estimated the cost of renting a home in Hall County will continue to “march upward” for about five years. It’s due, he said, to a shortage of affordable housing.

“Perhaps one of the most serious issues facing us today ... is the crisis caused by the rapidly diminishing stock of affordable housing,” Norton said.

He went on to say the lack of affordable housing, “if left unchecked, could undermine the entire social fabric of our country ... creating further disparity between the haves and the have-nots.”

Shawna Bennett said it’s “frustrating to see houses that were for rent last year for $900 that are now $1,000. I can’t believe they’re asking as much as they are for some of the houses I’ve looked at.”

Bennett added that she knows others who are “basically being forced out of homes they’ve been renting long-term because the landlord is raising the rent to keep up with the rental market.”

Having rented their current home for nearly four years, the Acevedos would like to find something more suitable for their family — especially if they ever plan on having another kid.

“We plan on expanding our family, but we’re kind of stuck where we’re at,” Stephanie Acevedo said. “Everywhere we look, it’s too expensive. I think it might even be cheaper to buy a house these days and pay a mortgage than rent at some of these places.”

They currently pay $500 per month, and she said their landlord is great “and we’re lucky for what we have, but we would really like to have more one day ... and one day we hopefully can, but right now, no.”

She said her sister-in-law recently rented an apartment in Hall County for $1,000 a month, which, she said is pretty standard based on the places they’ve looked.

Acevedo said her landlord is very good to the family, but she feels that other landlords in Hall County “know people will pay for whatever they’ll ask, and they’re taking advantage of people ... they know there’s a lot of people stuck in the same position as us right now.”