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Editorial: High-end apartment boom is good for Gainesville but the city needs more affordable housing, too
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The Solis Gainesville apartment and retail development continues in downtown Gainesville Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, along Bradford Street. - photo by Scott Rogers

The roll call of names sounds like the listing of luxury locales found in a Hallmark Christmas movie: Solis, Renaissance, The National, Midland, The Crest, The Mill at New Holland, The Atwater.

But these addresses are soon to be found right here at home.

A recent Times storychronicles the growth of the high-end apartment market in Hall County, and there’s no doubt business in that particular segment of residential growth is indeed booming.

The trend is not just one found locally. All around metro Atlanta and its suburbs, construction of luxury lofts, apartments and townhomes is under way, especially in the core areas of revitalized suburban “downtowns” that feature such complexes within the parameters of mixed-use developments.

We are excited to see it happening here and look forward to more.

As explained in today’s story, the market for such housing is especially appealing to young professionals, who like the idea of pedestrian-friendly, concentrated communities of residential, entertainment and retail development, as well as retirees for whom standalone tract housing units may have lost their appeal.

Yes, the apartments in these new complexes are more expensive than the sort of complexes with which we are more familiar. When the cost is compared to those of traditional suburban single-family housing, rather than other multifamily options, the differences become less obvious.

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The reality is, we are seeing a changing housing philosophy, a post-Baby Boomer shifting of interest away from cookie-cutter subdivision tracts to something different, especially for those who may not yet have started a family, or for empty nesters whose children have moved away from the family home.

Whatever the case, we’re glad to see growth in that housing sector locally, especially those that incorporate walking lifestyles that allow residents to leave their cars parked. Having such housing available helps to attract young professionals, such as those involved in our burgeoning regional health care community.

From a business standpoint, such projects add to local tax digests without creating the sort of strain on services needed by thousands of stand-alone homes scattered over hundreds of acres of developed land. They are a welcome addition to the landscape that fills a residential niche previously ignored.

That said, high-end apartments are not an option for everyone. To facilitate the sort of positive growth needed for long-term progress and economic stability, an area needs a healthy mix of housing options. As has often been noted, there is a shortage locally of “affordable housing,” residential units found on the opposite end of the residential scale from the new luxury developments.

It doesn’t do much good to build pedestrian-friendly downtowns if the people who work in the local restaurants and retail shops have to commute from 50 miles away because they can’t afford to live here. Don’t expect those high-end apartments to retain their luster if the staff needed to keep them running and looking good can’t find a place to live.

One of the reasons given for the popularity of $2,000-a-month apartments is the fact that they are still more viable for many tenants than trying to buy a starter home locally. We have to do something about that.

While we welcome the pizzazz associated with the new high-end growth, we do so fully aware that we have to do more to address working class housing for our community to stay on a sound economic foundation.

Ultimately, the cost of housing is dictated by the cost of construction and the marketability of product. There are things we can do to address the problem.

One is to accept the fact that higher density concentrations are necessary to lower cost. The appeal of quarter-acre lots and spaced-out suburban living has drawn many to the concept over the past 50 years but may not be the best land use plan for the future as we juggle workforce needs, the national economy, community growth and a lack of affordable starter homes.

Another is to re-evaluate the government regulations, permitting process and fees associated with construction. Much of the cost associated with housing today is a direct result of government mandates that do little to improve the safety or quality of housing.

We would love to see the county commission and local cities join together in the creation of a review panel, drawn primarily from the private sector, to evaluate all the mandates and permit requirements associated with residential construction to see what expenses could be eliminated without impacting safety. And then to implement the changes recommended by such a group in a timely manner.

We also can incentivize the building of economical living space by doing more with the sort of tax deferment and rebate programs that often are a part of high-end growth and development projects, such as the $11 million in tax rebates afforded The National for its project in Gainesville. 

For our community to thrive, as it has in the past, there must be housing available to fit the needs of all segments of the population. As much as we welcome the growth in the luxury living niche that is becoming increasingly obvious, we have to take action to revitalize the other end of the housing equation as well.

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