Metro Atlanta Winning with Water Conservation

By Kerry Armstrong, Chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission Board

By Kerry Armstrong, Chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission Board

By Kerry Armstrong, Chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission Board

In the 1990s, metro Atlanta’s post-Olympics development boom was threatened by a lack of wastewater treatment capacity.  Less than a decade later, a severe drought brought the region’s main water source, Lake Lanier, to historically low levels.

Things have changed, dramatically. Metro Atlanta has become a leader in water resources planning and water conservation.

Consider these numbers:

  • Since 2000, total water withdrawals in the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District have decreased by 10 percent, even as the 15-county region’s population increased by one million.
  • Per capita water use in the district has decreased by more than 20 percent since 2000.
  • Efficient low-flow toilets are saving 2.4 million gallons of water per day in the District, enough to fill 22 million bathtubs.

These are significant achievements that directly affect the region’s ability to grow and maintain its quality of life and economic vitality into the future.

How did we get here so quickly?

It took vision, bold decisions, and close collaboration by government officials, civic and business leaders and residents across metro Atlanta.

In 2001, the Georgia General Assembly created the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District (Metro Water District) to establish policy, create plans and promote intergovernmental coordination of all water issues in the District. The newly created Metro Water District engaged in a comprehensive two-year planning process for storm water, wastewater and water supply and water conservation.

Today the District brings together 15 counties, 92 cities and more than 60 water utilities to implement an array of strategies designed to protect water quality and ensure we use the region’s water more efficiently.

The Metro Water District’s conservation efforts show that regional collaboration can yield significant results.

What have they achieved?

  • Ten years ago, conservation pricing (the more you use, the more you pay) was a rarity in metro Atlanta. Today, water utilities serving more than 99 percent of the region’s population have implemented tiered rate structures that encourage customers to conserve.
  • Utilities have also stepped up their efforts to find and fix system leaks. Over the last three years, more than 23,000 water system leaks have been repaired.
  • Residents of the region have reduced water usage in their homes and landscapes and replaced outdated appliances with efficient water-saving appliances.
  • Since 2008, more than 100,000 old, inefficient toilets in the region have been replaced through toilet rebate programs offered by local governments or through the Metro Water District, resulting in estimated savings of more than 2.4 million gallons of water per day, enough to fill 22 million bathtubs.

This is good news for metro Atlanta.  But as long as the region continues to prosper and grow, we will need to find new and more efficient ways to conserve our water supply.

Summer is a time when water use increases as we fill swimming pools and water lawns. As we relax in the warm weather, let’s think about how we can reduce our water use even further so that we can all count on a sustainable future for the metro Atlanta region.

Take the Pledge to save water.

Take the Pledge to save water!

Want to reduce your water usage? Visit MyDropCounts.org and find:

  • Tips for using water wisely
  • Water Use Calculator to find out how much water you really use
  • Links to Toilet Rebate Programs
  • Pledge to reduce your water usage
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Walk Friendly + Bike Friendly Community Forum Seeks Your Input

Byron Rushing

By Byron Rushing, ARC Bicycle and Pedestrian Planner

In 1973, the metro Atlanta region, like the rest of the country, was experiencing a bicycle “boom” brought on by skyrocketing gas prices and increasing environmental awareness. In response, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) became one of the first metropolitan planning organizations in the nation to develop a comprehensive bicycle plan, titled The Bicycle. In the 42 years since that plan, the region has experienced tremendous growth, and the bicycle plan has evolved from a bicycle plan into a bicycle and pedestrian plan. The challenges we face around highway congestion, rising gas prices, increasing obesity and lack of economic opportunity, however, are not that different than the challenges we faced in 1973.

ARC is currently developing a new vision for walking and bicycling in the region that will be captured in the Regional Walking + Bicycling Transportation Plan. Walking and biking are inexpensive, healthy and fun transportation options, and we hope to ensure through the plan that trips throughout the region will be safe, comfortable and convenient. Each walking and bicycling trip may not seem that significant, but cumulatively these trips add up to big benefits for our communities throughout the region.

We need your input to develop the vision for this plan, so on May 29, ARC is holding a Walk Friendly + Bike Friendly Community Forum to gather input and discuss opportunities and needs related to walking and biking. At the forum, you will hear from national walking and biking expert Mia Birk and learn how investing in walking and biking can make your community healthier and more economically competitive.

The first goal for the plan is to gather research and input that will give us a better understanding of how walking and bicycling can help the metro Atlanta region improve in the following areas:

Traffic Safety – While traffic fatalities have decreased over the past decade, pedestrian fatalities have increased in both real numbers and as a percentage of all deaths. Pedestrian and bicycle fatalities occur most often on high-speed, multi-lane roads that lack sidewalks, crosswalks or protected bike lanes. We will work to understand the locations and causes of fatalities and link them to proven engineering countermeasures.

Mobility (the ability to travel) – Our highways are well-known for congestion and our transit system — local buses, express buses and rail — is vital but often inconvenient in too many areas. We will explore how increasing connectivity and improving the comfort and convenience of active transportation can increase transportation options, improve access to jobs and services and increase transportation reliability.

Economic competitiveness –  A growing body of data demonstrates that walkable urban places are becoming the new blueprint for community success. Metro Atlanta’s WalkUP Report, conducted in 2013 by Chris Leinberger, estimated that walkable urban places, such as Buckhead, Decatur and Perimeter Center, are increasingly desirable and command 112% higher rents than driving-focused suburbs. Premium bicycle corridors also attract visitors, investors and spending. Cobb County’s Silver Comet Trail attracts $50 million annually, and the Atlanta BeltLine has generated over $1 billion in private investment. These are enormous returns on relatively modest public investments. We will highlight where the region can replicate many of these successes.

Social Equity – The Atlanta region has the third lowest rate in the country for upward economic mobility, a fact that is exasperated by a lack of transportation options in the region. When car ownership is required to access jobs and basic services, it places a costly burden on low-income households. We will study how investments in walking, bicycling and transit can provide options and make transportation less expensive and more reliable for all households.

Once we have completed the research for the plan, our second task will be to use the research outcomes to develop a regional vision for improving walking and cycling within our metro communities and increasing connections across the region. This is a huge task for a large and diverse region. Our recommendations will likely include different things for different areas – dense networks in urban centers, scenic trails in suburban and rural areas and routine connections to regional transit – but the overall goal is to improve transportation throughout the region.

The Bicycle

The Bicycle, 1973, first bicycle plan for Atlanta region

We hope you will contribute to the vision and join us on May 29 for the Bike Friendly + Walk Friendly Community Forum.

For more information, visit the ARC website or contact Byron Rushing, ARC Bicycle & Pedestrian Planner, at 404-463-3345.

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The Power of Public Art

Greg_Burbidge

By Greg Burbidge, ARC Senior Program Specialist, Arts and Culture

Public art can surely enhance the aesthetics of a city, but it can also change lives — according to Jane Golden, executive director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

The Arthur Blank Foundation recently brought the dynamic Jane Golden to Atlanta through its Speaker Series to share her story about “The Power of Public Murals: It Ain’t About the Paint.” Ms. Golden talked about the power of public art in relation to community engagement and community development.  She deftly illustrated how the mural arts program in Philadelphia has produced real change in disadvantaged communities.

“This was not art that was parachuted down from the sky or imposed on people. This is what is called today “co-creation, co-collaboration.” It was working together. And, it was really valuing the opinion of the people who were there.” – Jane Golden

At the event, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) announced the launch of the Atlanta Regional Public Art Program. Inspired by the Philadelphia model, our regional public arts program is intended to commission and install public art of all kinds throughout the metro Atlanta region. This is an exciting moment for ARC and our region, as it marks the culmination of a year-long effort that began last year through our LINK trip to Philadelphia. It further solidifies ARC’s ongoing commitment to the arts.

ARC’s involvement in the arts began in May of 2012, when our Board voted to incorporate arts and culture into the agency’s planning efforts for the 10-county Atlanta region. In doing that, we acknowledged the importance of a thriving arts community to the culture, quality of life and economy of the region, and we made a commitment to grow the region’s reputation as a flourishing center for the arts.

Then, on the LINK visit to Philadelphia last year, we met Jane Golden and the seeds of ARC’s public art program were planted. LINK is a cross-sector, cross-county leadership exchange, organized by ARC, to expose regional leaders to other metro areas and how address similar challenges and opportunities. In Philadelphia, we explored community redevelopment, innovation and technology, transportation and economic development.  But, one speaker in particular excited, provoked and inspired the LINK trip participants. That speaker was Jane Golden.

And, after hearing her inspirational talk, many participants on the LINK trip were moved, on the spot, to make two very specific commitments.  The first commitment was to pledge their own funds to launch a regional public arts initiative in metro Atlanta. The second commitment was made by the Blank Foundation to bring Jane Golden to Atlanta so the LINK participants could share the same excitement they experienced.

What inspired LINK participants to pledge funds after hearing Jane Golden was the way her program in Philadelphia used public art, not just to beautify communities, but to encourage community engagement and act as a tool for community development. Those are the goals we hope to achieve in the Atlanta region.

“Sometimes they were about people’s stories or their histories, their struggles, their aspirations, their triumphs, their history. Their history on large walls. Mirrors that you hold up to people and you say, ‘Your life counts’.” – Jane Golden

The Atlanta Regional Public Art Program is a competitive grant program that will use the funds pledged by LINK participants and others, to provide matching grants to local governments, community improvement districts, neighborhood associations and nonprofits.

Interested organizations may apply to receive up to $15,000 in matching funds for the creation and installation of public art in their communities. Once an organization is selected, they will choose an artist to work with their community to develop a public art installation that responds to a regional theme. We have chosen a theme that allows each community to celebrate their individuality within the region. The theme is: “Atlantans share the belief that there is ample opportunity to participate in making history in our region.”

Each community that receives funds will interpret this theme in their own unique way and will work to develop their response through a variety of community engagement tools. We understand that collaborative public art will be new to many communities in metro Atlanta, so ARC plans to offer workshops to provide training and technical assistance for both artists and project sponsors. These workshops will guide participants throughout this process. We can’t wait to see the art they create and the impact it may have!

To view the program details, sign up for updates and download the application for the program, please visit our website, publicart.atlantaregional.com.

Common Threads by Meg Saligman

Common Threads by Meg Saligman

And, to experience the enthusiasm and excitement of Jane Golden and see what she has accomplished with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, watch a webcast of her talk in Atlanta at the Arthur Blank Foundation: The Power of Public Murals: It Ain’t About the Paint.

 

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2015 Legislative Session Positive for Metros and State

Scott Haggard, ARC Government Affairs Manager

By Scott Haggard, ARC Government Affairs Manager

Considering the important issues at stake during the 2015 Georgia General Assembly, the session ended fairly quietly at midnight, Thursday, April 2, but the its impact on Georgia’s future will be big. And, for the metro Atlanta region, the session stands as a qualified success.

On many of the major issues important to the region — transportation, water and aging services —  legislators made advances that will pay dividends for years to come. More importantly for the Atlanta region, dialogue about how to move forward on the issue of adequately funding public transit, a topic that has vexed lawmakers for years, was begun in a serious way and holds great promise for the future.

Legislation to address the chronic underfunding of transportation infrastructure in Georgia was one of the most highly anticipated bills taken up by the General Assembly this year. The Transportation Funding Act of 2015 passed and will substantially increase our state’s investment in critical transportation infrastructure, a top priority for the region and for the state’s leadership.

The effect of the bill will be to add nearly $1 billion annually to state transportation infrastructure funds. This is a critical investment to the state’s future and demonstrates a commitment from state leaders to address challenges that might negatively impact economic prosperity in the future.

This legislation shifts taxation away from a complex formula of excise and sales taxes on motor fuel to a direct 26-cents per gallon excise tax. This shift ensures that these monies will be spent on transportation uses and not diverted to the state’s general fund. In addition to the excise tax, a new fee on hotel rooms per night, expected to raise about $200 million annually, will not be constitutionally restricted to roads and bridges, and therefore will be eligible for purposes such as transit.

There were other encouraging signs for transit in the 2015 legislative session. For the first time ever, the state budget contained a line item in the amount of $75 million for transit needs, statewide. These funds are expected to be administered as a competitive grant program, through which transit agencies can address urgent needs.

In addition, legislation was passed that will allow individual counties in the Atlanta region to put before their voters a funding opportunity for transportation and transit projects and services. This “county T-SPLOST” option, available as early as 2016, is a variation of the larger regional T-SPLOST that failed at the ballot box in 2012, and allows for a vote on a fractional sales tax in .05-cent increments, up to a full penny, to fund a specific list of transportation or transit projects over a five-year period.

These advances suggest that the state may have reached an important tipping point on transit. Public comments made on multiple occasions from top state leaders such as Governor Nathan Deal, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and Speaker David Ralston stressed that transit can no longer be an afterthought in our transportation future.

In addition to the positive movement on infrastructure funding and transit, the Atlanta region will benefit from bills passed that will provide much needed relief for Georgia’s aging population. Added funding in the state budget will help to remove 1,000 persons from the waiting list for home and community-based aging services. This $1.7 million line item will benefit many families whose loved ones are better able to be cared for in their own homes, rather than in an institution. The state budget also contained funding for eight new GBI agents specifically for investigating cases of abuse against elderly persons, and legislation was passed strengthening the penalties for such offenses. Finally, the new Georgia Adult and Aging Services Agency will bring much needed attention to the many issues specific to the rapidly growing share of the population of older adults in the state.

The Atlanta region also has good news in the area of water resources. A specific $500,000 line item in the state budget will allow the Metro North Georgia Water Planning District to have adequate resources to begin its required Water Plan Update for the Atlanta region. This will be a critical update, in light of ongoing litigation in the federal courts between Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

Looking back over the 2015 General Assembly session, residents of the metro Atlanta region can be thankful for the work of the General Assembly toward generating outcomes that can lead us toward a more prosperous and livable future.

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Preparing Leaders for Metro Atlanta 2.0

Douglas R. Hooker, Executive Director, Atlanta Regional Commission

by Douglas R. Hooker, ARC Executive Director

The Atlanta region is one of the 10 largest metros in the U.S. and has an economy larger than all but 35 countries. To remain competitive in this fast-changing world, our leadership and vision must grow and respond to current and future challenges and opportunities.

Today, the leadership of metro Atlanta falls primarily to the Baby Boomer age cohort. Strong, visionary leadership has always been a hallmark of our region; this is a factor that sets us apart from many other southeastern metros. So, conveying the mantel of leadership to future leaders to help envision and shape metro Atlanta 2.0 is an important and timely task, one that we must approach with intention.

This will be a demanding process. This new leadership cohort will face difficult and novel decisions. It must consist of informed, creative and passionate individuals who are open to new ideas, new visions and new technology. How will these leaders prepare for the challenges they face?

As part of our core mission, ARC offers several leadership programs to involve and inform participants about the regional challenges and opportunities we face. Two of these programs are recruiting now for 2015 members. They are the Regional Leadership Institute (RLI) and Model Atlanta Regional Commission (MARC).

Regional Leadership Institute

RLI is a program for metro Atlanta’s new or emerging leaders who aspire to become more effective, connected and active in their professional lives and communities. The intensive, week-long program, held in Savannah, focuses on topics relevant to the Atlanta region. It exposes participants to local and national thought leaders, who present on a range of topics all related to keeping metro areas sharp and competitive. Just as importantly, the RLI program fosters a network of educated, active and connected citizen leaders, who can mobilize around important issues to help solve our current and future challenges.

RLI’s mission is to:

  • Create a shared sense of community in the Atlanta region.
  • Build relationships of trust between businesses, government, non-profit, civic, religious, racial, ethnic and cultural groups.
  • Expand leaders’ knowledge regarding the key issues, opportunities and challenges that face the region.
  • Bring clarity to the role of community leadership and aid in the development of new skills, awareness and competencies required to lead.

Model Atlanta Regional Commission

The MARC program is the Atlanta Regional Commission’s award-winning youth leadership initiative. For 18 years, MARC has brought together groups of 50+ metro Atlanta high-school sophomores and juniors for six months of study, field trips and hands-on exercises. The program is designed to immerse and engage youth leaders in key issues affecting the Atlanta region, while honing their leadership skills.  MARC participants learn about regional issues from both community leaders and ARC experts. The students are exposed to the challenges of transportation, air quality, human services, land use and water supply and quality. Using that knowledge, students gather in committees to explore regional issues and develop possible solutions to challenges by crafting plans and resolutions they present to the official ARC board.

Investing in the future

Why should ARC invest time and energy in nurturing a wide breadth of leaders in the region? The answer is simple: the region needs a diverse set of perspectives and the collective insight of new leaders, leaders ready to help shape our tomorrow.

The curriculum this year for both ARC leadership programs will mirror work of the ARC Board in looking at three key initiatives to ensure a winning future.  We believe these initiatives will keep the region attractive and desirable for future generations.  They are:

  1.  Innovative Economy – Fewer than 73 percent of our students graduate from high school and far fewer go to college or technical school. How can we ensure a ready workforce for the jobs of the future?
  2. World Class Infrastructure – How do we strategically invest limited public funds to introduce more alternative means for moving people from home, to schools or to jobs as our region grows? And, with a limited water supply and a growing population, how do we ensure safe, plentiful water for future residents?
  3. Healthy, Livable Communities – How can we create more walkable areas like Midtown, Suwanee and Avalon, where people are able and comfortable walking to work, schools, restaurants and shops? This is important for both young workers who don’t want to drive and for older adults who find it increasingly difficult to drive.

To achieve our goals in these three areas, we will need the cooperation of local governments, chambers of commerce, civic and not-profit leaders and informed citizens.  These initiatives that are so critical to the future success of metro Atlanta require leaders who are well versed in these issues.

I believe that our region is at the precipice of tremendous change and opportunity. The choices before us are more important than ever.  The issues we face today are inviting us to make new, different and difficult choices about our future. We cannot take the easy path. It won’t take us to the future we most desire. We need an informed cadre of leadership that will take us boldly down new paths of opportunity and livability. Join us and help us create that vision for metro Atlanta 2.0.

Regional Leadership Institute (RLI)
The application deadline for the 2015 RLI class is Friday, April 17. Anyone within the Metro Atlanta area who aspires to be a more effective leader in the region may apply. Class members are selected based on demonstrated leadership in the community. Additional information and the application form are available on ARC’s website at: www.atlantaregional,com/rli.

Model Atlanta Regional Commission (MARC)
The application deadline for the 2015-16 MARC class is Friday, April 17. Any student currently in the 9th or 10th grade who lives or attends school in the 10-county region may apply. Additional information and application forms are available on the ARC website at www.atlantaregional.com/marc.

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Water Conservation Is Everyone’s Business

Mayor Boyd Austin, Chairman of Metro North Georgia Water Planning District

by Mayor Boyd Austin, Chairman, Metro North Georgia Water Planning District

Feels like it’s rained a lot lately, doesn’t it? But all that rain doesn’t guarantee an unlimited water supply. Metro Atlanta depends almost entirely on rainfall and our ability to store water from rain events because we have little groundwater in the region.

At the moment, we’re tracking close to average rainfall for the past three years. We cannot count on that indefinitely, however. We know that droughts will occur, even if we don’t know when. And we know we will add more residents who will need water. Thus, we must plan carefully and thoughtfully to ensure an adequate water supply in the years ahead.

The Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District (Metro Water District) creates regional water plans for water supply and conservation, stormwater and wastewater management. With limited water resources and a growing population, the region must effectively manage its vital water resources. To that end, the Metro Water District stands as a success story.

Created by the Georgia General Assembly in 2001 to promote regional management of metro Atlanta’s water resources, the Metro Water District includes 15 counties and 92 cities. The District’s comprehensive watershed, wastewater and water supply plans offer a blueprint that supports anticipated growth while protecting the environment. These plans help safeguard water quality and public drinking supplies, provide region-wide water conservation measures and minimize the potential detrimental impacts of continued urban and suburban development on waters in and downstream of the district. The District will adopt updated plans in 2016.

As we continually seek to improve our management of this precious resource, the Metro Water District builds on more than a decade of leadership, particularly when it comes to water conservation. The Water Supply and Water Conservation Management Plan mandates an aggressive water conservation program with 19 measures that are implemented by local systems. We know of no other major metropolitan area in the country where more than 100 jurisdictions are working together to implement such a comprehensive water conservation program. The pay-off has been substantial. Between 2000 and 2010, the region’s population increased by one million – or 20 percent – while total water use decreased by 10 percent.

The water conservation measures required by the plan include conservation pricing (the more you use, the more you pay); replacing older, inefficient plumbing fixtures; reducing water system leakage; and much more. For example, since the toilet rebate program began in 2008, more than 100,000 old, inefficient toilets have been replaced. This has resulted in savings of more than 575 million gallons of water per year. On the supply side, the Metro Water District has supported utilities in their efforts to identify and reduce system leaks. During the past three years, utilities have identified and repaired more than 23,000 leaks.

Yet, there is always more we can do. EPA estimates that leaks in the average home waste more than 10,000 gallons of water a year. Metro residents are encouraged to check for leaky toilets, faucets, showerheads or irrigation systems during EPA’s Fix a Leak week, March 16-22. More information on ways to use less water is available through the District’s website, My Drop Counts.

In spite of recent rains, it is imperative that we use our water resources wisely. We must build on the successes of the past decade to increase water efficiency and to step up protections of our watersheds. Together we will continue to move the region toward best-in-class water resources management.

 

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Housing Affordability in Metro Atlanta – It’s Complicated!

MikeAlexander_Web

by Mike Alexander, Manager of Research and Analytics at the Atlanta Regional Commission

 

Is metro Atlanta an affordable place to live? The affordable price of housing in metro Atlanta can be credited with helping to add more than one million new residents to the region over the last decade. Our median sales price for a single-family home is $167,500; among the largest 25 metros in the United States, only St. Louis and Tampa have lower median sales prices for houses. But does that mean metro Atlanta is an affordable place to live?

Affordability is a tricky issue.  A host of factors that are not necessarily related to housing can affect the affordability of a region, and one of the most significant factors is the cost of transportation. By some metrics, when transportation costs are added to overall affordability costs, metro Atlanta becomes one of the LEAST affordable large metros for moderate-income families. These families spend an average of 63 percent of their income on transportation and housing costs. To further complicate things, the region’s largest employment centers lack affordable housing located nearby, meaning that many lower-income workers cannot afford to live near their jobs.

So how do we talk about affordability in the region? Here are some available metrics:

  • The Housing Opportunity Index refers to the percentage of homes that are affordable to a family earning the area’s median income. Using this metric, Atlanta ranks as the sixth most affordable place among the largest 25 metro areas in the U.S.
  • HUD’s Location Affordability Index, adds transportation costs to housing costs and considers different household budget scenarios. Metro Atlanta ranks in the middle of the pack for affordability in this index, spending, on average, 53 percent of income on housing and transportation costs. (The Center for Neighborhood Technology suggests a threshold of no more than 45 percent.)
  • The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) uses a more expansive definition of “Moderate-Income” (50% – 100% of Area Median Income) than HUD’s Location Affordability Index, and they find metro Atlanta to have the sixth worst affordability among the 25 largest metros for “moderate-income” households.
  • The Census Bureau measures the percent of households that spend more than 30 percent of income on housing costs and reports data for both owner costs and renter costs. Using this measure, Clayton County has the lowest income in the 20-county region and the highest percentage of households spending more than 30 percent of income on housing costs.
  • Renters fare badly in almost every jurisdiction in metro Atlanta, spending at least half of their income on housing costs. The National Low Income Housing Coalition publishes Out of Reach, which evaluates the wages needed to afford rental housing at Fair Market Rate. In many of the region’s counties, at least 60 percent of renters cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment (i.e. they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs).

Looking at these different metrics, then, is metro Atlanta an affordable place to live? The answer truly is complicated. But here are some things we can infer from the data:

  • Metro Atlanta home prices and values are relatively low when compared to other metro areas. But cost-of-living plays a role in these rankings. Metro Atlanta has a low cost-of-living, so we should expect lower home prices compared to higher cost-of-living metros.
  • At the neighborhood level, affordability is determined by multitude of factors, including simple supply and demand near job centers. In the Atlanta region, many of the largest employment centers also have some of the region’s most expensive housing.
  • Transportation plays a key role in assessing overall affordability. Often, the most affordable housing options are located far away from key job centers. When transportation costs are added to the cost of a home in the suburbs or exurbs, housing becomes less affordable, particularly for lower- to moderate-income households.
  • Renters have a particularly hard time finding affordable options throughout the region. In many jurisdictions, particularly poorer exurban counties, living in an average-priced two-bedroom apartment consumes more than 60 percent of the average renter’s income, and that does NOT factor in increased transportation costs.

Overall, it’s important to understand the role transportation costs and the distance between affordable housing and job centers can play in determining affordability for moderate to low-income families. These factors can affect the region’s attractiveness to newcomers, especially the young, creative millennials that metro Atlanta hopes to attract; the high cost of transportation, the long commutes, the lack of transportation options and the high cost of rental housing can impact their decision to choose metro Atlanta as place to live and work after college.

Explore the Data:

rental data

Infographic: 2015 Housing Affordability in Metro Atlanta

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Is Atlanta Ready for a High-Tech Future?

by Melissa Roberts, Community Engagement Coordinator of ARC’s Transportation Access & Mobility Division

Google forecasts that technological change will occur at a rate four times faster over the next 20 years than we have experienced in the past 20 years. That’s a lot of fast-paced change! The Atlanta Regional Commission is considering the impact of technology and innovation on the way we live, work and travel, and we want to hear your thoughts as well.

What do you think of a future where driverless cars will be available in the next 10 years? How would better, faster teleworking technology impact the way you live and work?  Or what if you had an app on your phone that would match your transportation need with the most appropriate and efficient mode available (think bus, Uber, taxi, etc.)? If additional transit-connected employment centers emerge in the south, east and west of the region, how would this impact you?

These questions and more are posed in a new survey being conducted by the Atlanta Regional Commission. This survey follows up on the one conducted last summer, which gathered more than 8,000 responses. The first survey asked regional residents to identify and prioritize metro Atlanta’s biggest challenges. You can view survey results and comments from the Region’s Plan Survey Phase I on ARC’s website. This second survey focuses on new technologies that may impact where and how we travel and live over the next 25 years.

Input from this survey will be used to help ARC develop The Region’s Plan of investment strategies and performance metrics that will guide public policies related to issues of transportation, land use, water quality, workforce development, aging and health resources. In short, The Region’s Plan is a vision to ensure growth and a high quality of life for everyone in the metro Atlanta region.

The Region's Plan Survey Phase II

The Region’s Plan Survey Phase II

The survey is visual, interactive and brief. It allows for open-ended comments throughout. ARC will continue to conduct these surveys over the course of updating The Region’s Plan, set to be adopted in the spring of 2016. The Region’s Plan Survey Phase II is open now through the end of March 2015. Take the survey and share it. We want to know what you think!

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The Future Will Not Be Like the Past

Housing and construction have been cornerstones of the metro Atlanta economy for decades. Housing was the reason we grew, the reason we crashed and it will be an essential part of our recovery. While experts are still debating the future of housing, it’s clear that if metro Atlanta is going to thrive, we have to build for a new reality.

In 2011, former Senators George Mitchell, Mel Martinez, Christopher “Kit” Bond and former US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros formed the Bipartisan Housing Commission. For more than two years this group led a nationwide effort to consider how we might get housing policy back on track. Last week, joined by several hundred economists, bankers, developers and regulators the Commission spent two days reviewing their recommendations and debating how to re-invigorate financing and provide quality housing for people of all incomes. They assessed the state of the economy, lamented all the reasons why Congress isn’t likely to act and contemplated how the nation’s changing demographics will fundamentally and permanently re-shape housing markets.

by Kathryn Lawler, Manager of Aging and Health Resources, Atlanta Regional Commission

by Kathryn Lawler, Manager of Aging and Health Resources, Atlanta Regional Commission

While extensive regulatory change, new but limited ways to share risk, investments in housing for low-income renters and owners and tax reform are all desperately needed, the Commission devoted a considerable number of its recommendations to the aging of the population. They invited the Atlanta Regional Commission to Washington last week because of our ground-breaking work to build Lifelong Communities and our experiences and knowledge about how to address the needs of older adults. The Commission believes, as does the Atlanta Regional Commission, that longevity will so profoundly reshape housing, transportation and the economy, that we must thoughtfully prepare and creatively re-imagine how we live together.

In the Atlanta region we have accumulated considerable expertise on how to diversify housing options, re-balance transportation investments, create walkable communities that keep people of all ages healthy and engaged and offer the supports and services to help metro residents stay out of hospitals and nursing homes. Our challenge, as we shared with the Commission, is that we are not positioned to do any of these things at scale.

Like the rest of the country, we are aging; but Atlanta is aging faster than most major metro areas. Atlanta has to get housing back on track so our economy will follow. But we can’t build the way we built before because we aren’t the same. Our population will include far more older people than have ever lived in Atlanta and as a share of the population, far fewer young people. This new community requires a diverse set of housing options and perhaps just as important, transportation options. But, our rules about what gets built, where it gets built and how it gets paid for are holding us back. All across the country and around the globe, individuals, private companies and governments are facing the same challenges as they look to respond to the rapidly changing population. Atlanta can be the inspiration — if we are willing to build and invest at scale.

We can start by tripling investments in transportation for non-driving and older populations. We should significantly and quickly expand pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure that both keeps people healthy and helps them get where they need to go. We should allow innovations in supportive and senior housing within existing communities rather than on the edges or in highly commercial corridors. Policy makers should invest in services and community supports for older adults rather than cutting them. And we must re-align our health system to incentivize prevention rather than procedures. None of those strategies will be easy.

The future will not be like the past. We must invent a different way forward that addresses the new reality of a growing older adult population rather than rely on policies of the past that no longer reflect who we are.

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Urban Agriculture Grows Jobs and Community in Addition to Fresh Food

Dan Reuter, Community Development Division Manager, Atlanta Regional Commission

Dan Reuter, Community Development Division Manager, Atlanta Regional Commission

The most basic and routine part of our day — access to food — involves one of the most complex planning processes.

Food is many things.  It is culture, embodying ethnic traditions, family recipes and social opportunities.  It is wellness – the fuel that we need to stay healthy and the nutrients we need to thrive.  It is a commodity – it represents job creation, economic development and innovation.  And, food is sustainability, insofar as we strive to create food security for all residents of metro Atlanta, providing diverse options while minimizing harmful environmental impacts.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, agricultural production in Georgia topped more than $9 billion in 2012. Yet the vast majority of metro Atlanta’s food comes from outside the region and the state.  That imbalance has begun to change in recent years as access to locally sourced food has grown.  By the numbers, we enjoy the harvest from more than 200 urban farms, some 80 community gardens and urban orchards and more than 90 farmers market.

In addition, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs provide for direct investment into the local growing community, regular access to fresh fruits, vegetables and pasture-raised meats and opportunities for dining in restaurants that purchase directly from local growers.  The Georgia Department of Agriculture supports Georgia Grown, a marketing and economic development program to brand and promote locally grown products, as well as a Georgia Agritourism program that promotes value-added services on local farms.

A variety of unique urban agriculture programs is also sprouting in the region. The Global Growers Network was founded by Basmat Ahmed, who fled South Sudan during government-sponsored genocide. The network turned an underused park near Clarkston into a community garden for refugees and the disabled. The garden is a place where they can grow vegetables from their homelands and share them with the community. The garden offers a place where refugees can connect with others and with agriculture. Gardeners find not only the peace, camaraderie and nourishment of farming, they also receive agricultural training and earn money by selling excess produce at area farmers’ markets.

Adjacent to Atlanta’s downtown business district in the Castleberry neighborhood and modeled on the concept of World War II Victory Gardens is the Veteran’s Farmers Market. The US Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that there are more than 6,000 displaced veterans on Atlanta streets. The 3 x 3 Project, which operates the Veteran’s Farmers Market, gets those veterans involved in urban farming. A portion of the food helps supplement local shelters, and some proceeds help provide job and agriculture training for veterans.

In the southern part of the region, community gardeners created Community Gardens of Henry County, a nonprofit organization that operates five main gardens on vacant lots throughout the county. These gardens provide many positive things for the communities, including education, training, food production and green space.

While community gardens and urban farming are making a positive impact on many metro regions around the U.S., they also face a variety of challenges. These include high water rates, a lack of capital to start and maintain gardens and a scarcity of available space due to competition for vacant lots from more profitable ventures.

Locally-grown food provides fresh, nutritious sustenance for regional residents. The process of raising it provides jobs, physical activity, community building and business opportunities for citizens. Even though it has its challenges, urban agriculture in metro Atlanta has put down strong roots. The forecast is for a bumper crop.

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