From dry rot and sagging or rusted roofs to uneven or cracked foundations, the conditions of many homes in many neighborhoods throughout Gainesville is a glaring and aching element of the city’s affordable housing crunch.
Of 447 residences recently surveyed across portions of two census tracts in the city, 62 percent had at least one minor defect, while 14 percent, or 62 homes, had a major defect.
“Just walking through the neighborhoods ... I think there are more pockets of housing that are in decline than we expected,” said Kim Skobba, assistant professor in the housing management and policy program at the University of Georgia.
She added that it helps reveal patterns that can’t be picked up with a cursory glance and reflects the conditions that are likely present in other lower-income neighborhoods.
Ten of Gainesville’s 16 census tracts have poverty rates higher than 20 percent.
The survey, conducted by UGA students and the housing and demographic research center, was made between February and April.
Students worked in groups of two and three after training sessions to ensure quality control of the data.
Skobba said neighborhoods tucked between Bradford Street on the east, Ridgewood Avenue on the north, Gainesville High School on the west and John Morrow Parkway to the south were selected because this area provided a large enough sample size without being unmanageable.
It’s also a mixed-income and racially diverse pocket of Gainesville.
Of the homes surveyed, 74 percent were renter-occupied. Across the city, that figure is only slightly lower at 65 percent.
The median year the homes surveyed were built in is 1948. The median square footage is just 1,324, and the median total value of the residence and property is $86,000, according to tax records.
About 300 of the residences were single-family homes with no garage, another 100 with garages, about 50 duplexes. Finally, 35 vacant lots were identified.
Broken windows, unfinished wood, exposed insulation and porches in disrepair were also common defects tallied.
In all, about 15 percent of properties (65) had at least two minor defects; 18 percent (80) had three minor and/or one major defect; and 8 percent (37) were considered dilapidated with four or more minor and/or two or more major defects.
Real estate developer Frank Norton Jr., president and CEO of The Norton Agency in Gainesville, said he wasn’t surprised by the findings.
“When I see a substandard house, I know it,” he said. “But I personally know of other areas that are far worse in the city.”
However, the fact that so many vacant lots were identified did surprise him.
Norton said poor housing conditions and vacant lots suppress property values across the city, and they present lost opportunities for redevelopment.
Moreover, the city loses out on broadening its tax base.
Addressing substandard housing conditions has long been on the radar of city leaders. Former Councilman Bob Hamrick said he first ran for office back in the 1960s in part because he wanted to address some of the more deplorable living conditions in the city.
It’s an issue that has frustrated developers, code enforcement officers and public housing program officials.
And it has added stress to the problem of affordable housing in the city. Sometimes what’s affordable isn’t livable.
More than half of all renters in Gainesville, and about 30 percent of homeowners, are considered cost-burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to census figures.
Gainesville Housing Manager Chris Davis said this survey could help lure federal or state grant funding for home rehab and building projects, such as the small collection of homes under construction in the Newtown neighborhood off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
But those grants must be directed to larger scale renovations, and not just cosmetic and energy efficiency initiatives, Norton said.
He is particularly concerned about the findings of dilapidated and substandard homes around Gainesville High School.
“Perhaps we could figure out some way to get community redevelopment money people could draw from,” Norton said, adding that bank loans to pay for renovations can be difficult to acquire.
The results of the survey are being mapped and Skobba said it’s possible UGA could review other neighborhoods and census tracts in Gainesville in the coming years.
“I appreciate the city looking at small, micro-markets,” Norton said, adding that he hopes surveys will indeed be expanded.
Davis said a citywide comprehensive survey could cost upward of $100,000, so UGA’s volunteer efforts are especially rewarding.
But he agrees an expanded survey is vital. It provides a snapshot of neighborhoods in decline and helps prioritize projects for the city’s housing program.
“The true value of this is to help guide us where we need to spend those resources that we do have,” Davis said. “Hopefully, we will be able to work with (UGA) further. We know there’s needs elsewhere.”