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Atlanta’s ‘Superstar’ status as high tech center brings spiraling housing costs, traffic: Brookings Institute

buckhead apartment, modera

Escalating housing costs are typical in regions with growing high tech sectors, including Atlanta. Monthly rents at Modera Buckhead approach $4,000 for a two-bedroom unit, a price unheard of 20 years ago. Credit: David Pendered

By David Pendered

Atlanta has made the list of “Superstar Metro Areas” for the number of jobs in the innovation sector. Long commutes and sky-high housing costs come with that badge of honor, according to a report released Monday by the Brookings Institute that recommends a set of national policy solutions.

apartment, buckhead, modera

Escalating housing costs are typical in regions with growing high tech sectors, including Atlanta. Monthly rents at Modera Buckhead approach $4,000 for a two-bedroom unit, a price unheard of 20 years ago. Credit: David Pendered

The proposed solutions don’t address the day-to-day challenges of living in metro Atlanta or any of the other Top 20 high tech centers. The purpose of the Brookings’ report is to recommend federal policies to promote the growth of high tech centers in more U.S. cities – before their economies are completely left in the dust.

The release of the report coincides with the calm before the storm of the presidential primary election season, a period when candidates could consider embracing some of its concepts. The primaries begin Feb. 3, 2020, with the Iowa caucuses. Georgia’s presidential primary election is set for March 23, 2020.

Brooking’s centerpiece calls on the federal government to identify eight to 10 metro areas that could grow into sizable innovation centers. The goal is to spread the wealth of the high tech sector across the country, as opposed to current locations mainly in the Northeast and West Coast.

Federal spending is to spur the regions with a total of $700 million a year for research and development. The total price would reach about $100 billion over 10 years, including a package of federal incentives to support the growth, according to The case for growth centers: How to spread tech innovation across America.

All this said, the report does provide some comfort for metro Atlanta residents facing a certain set of growing urban challenges – they’re not alone.

In housing costs, consider the case of software developers in San Francisco. Or just one – Brandon – and his solution to high housing costs.

Brandon’s blog tells how he lived in a $10,000 delivery truck he parked on Google’s campus. Brandon slept in a bed in the truck and wanted for nothing, so long as he went inside the building to use the gym with showers, laundry and eateries. The Brookings report provided a footnote that leads to a rabbit trail that ends at Brandon’s current blog, which leads to the truck blog – Thoughts from Inside the Box. Brandon has had his minute of fame on national TV shows, but doesn’t provide his last name on his blog.

Brandon's truck, graphic

Brandon was a 22-year-old graduate of the University of Massachusetts / Amherst when he got a job with Google as a software engineers and decided to live in a truck rather than pay the housing costs of San Francisco. His whimsical blog attracted a considerable following. Credit: frominsidethebox.com

Metro Atlanta’s housing costs don’t appear to have reached the point that tech workers are camping in parking lots. Nonetheless, housing prices continue to rise and show no signs of cresting.

One example is the monthly rent in Buckhead that reaches nearly $4,000 for a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment. Modera Buckhead prices these units to start from $2,435 and peak at $3,705, according to the published rate sheet

For potential homebuyers, prices in once-affordable areas are rising steeply. In a blighted area of Southwest Atlanta, flippers have arrived, just as they did in the Old Fourth Ward a decade ago.

In Oakland City, a renovated house is priced at $300,000, according to its listing on trulia.com. The property’s upward prices are evident in Fulton County property records. Three sales are recorded:

  • 1, 2001, $0, with a note of “unusual financing,” from an electrical company to a business owner;
  • 31, 2017 – $16,700, from the now-former business owner to a developer;
  • 20, 2018 – $94,000, from the developer to a real estate investment firm.

One building permit is posted for this property – on Dec. 7, 2018. At $19,100, the permit indicates a fairly extensive investment in renovation.

Atlanta’s growth in the high tech centers wasn’t remarkable since 2005, but it exceeded other cities – some of which lost high tech jobs. Credit: Brookings Institute

In terms of traffic congestion, consider just the case of Buckhead. The neighborhood is a cut-through from several interstate highways to destinations including the region’s signature retail centers, offices, and entertainment and cultural destinations.

The popularity comes at a price: The daily traffic count near the governor’s mansion in 2018 was 20,800 vehicles on a two-lane road with lots of intersections. The vehicles were counted near the intersection West Paces Ferry Road and West Andrews Drive, according to a report by the Georgia Department of Transportation. That compares to Decatur’s estimated population was 25,732 in 2018, according to a report by the Census.

In hopes of reaching a plan to address the situation, Buckhead residents, and business and civic leaders have come together to offer their recommendations to regional leaders.

The status of their efforts may become more clear next week. A meeting is scheduled to bring together a group of Buckhead leaders and representatives of the City of Atlanta; MARTA; Buckhead Community Improvement District, and Livable Buckhead.


brandon truck

Brandon lived in this truck, parked on Google’s campus in San Francisco, rather than pay rents that had reached $2,000 a month when he interned the previous summer – the price for sharing a two-bedroom Google-owned apartment with three roommates. Credit: frominsidethebox.com

David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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