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Too much blight, too little low-cost housing: New research could inform debate

Atlanta, blight

The tarp stretched over the roof of this house near Washington Park suggests water is leaking into the structure, a sign that the house will incur damage. Credit: David Pendered

By David Pendered

Atlanta has too many blighted neighborhoods and too little affordable housing. Now, a raft of research has been released to inform policy makers who want to address the challenges.

Atlanta, blight

The tarp stretched over the roof of this house near Washington Park suggests water is leaking into the structure, a sign that the house will incur damage. Credit: David Pendered

The Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta this month released two relevant papers. Both were written by researchers affiliated with Georgia Tech and deal with housing in Atlanta compared with other cities. The papers arrive as Atlanta city officials say they want developers to provide more low-cost housing.

These research papers address the matters Atlanta City Councilmember Cleata Winslow articulated during a recent council meeting.

Winslow highlighted an aspect of neighborhood development that’s often overlooked in the discussion about affordable housing, neighborhood-based economic development, and the ability to commute easily.

Here’s how Winslow framed the dilemma during the May 2 council meeting. Winslow represents District 4, located southwest of Downtown Atlanta and adjacent to both sides of I-20.

First, Winslow addressed the issue of a shortage of housing that affordable, meaning it doesn’t cost more than 30 percent of household income:

Cleta Winslow

Cleta Winslow

  • “In my district, we’re not looking for affordable housing. … We’ve got so much affordability that we can’t even get affordable done. … Bankers are not supporting development in our areas; they’re not, they’re just not doing it. … And above the area that I’m talking about, the bankers are giving money. The cranes are going gangbusters in those areas [of Midtown and Buckhead].”

Second, Winslow addressed the issue of what happens in neighborhoods like those she represents, those where many residents earn low household incomes:

  • “We’re just trying to get a nice restaurant. In order to get a decent restaurant, you have to have $50,000 [household] income in an area. We can’t get that in our area. So we’re really struggling. The transit oriented development around the MARTA station was kind of going gangbuster. One developer submitted an application at the Oakland station. Six inquiries, one developer submitted an application.”

With the Oakland Station comment, Winslow was referencing the hope that the 3.7-acre former parking lot could be developed into a mixed use project with restaurants and coffee shops. MARTA itself offered to do all it could to help a developer complete the project. MARTA filed papers to rezone the property to a dense category; offered to help the developer negotiate the intricacies of getting funding from Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm; and offered to help the developer work with community leaders.

Atlanta, housing vacant

A row of vacant houses are boarded up to prevent break-ins on a street near South Atlanta Park. Credit: David Pendered

The research papers don’t specifically address the issues Winslow discussed. However, they do provide a framework for debate that’s based on local and national data on housing and related matters. They contain the types of information that Atlanta Councilmember Yolanda Adrean and others asked for during the council’s debate over requiring all government-subsidized housing projects in the city to provide a certain proportion of low-cost units.

Georgia Tech Professor Daniel Immergluck is the lead author of Declines in Low-Cost Rented Housing Units in Eight Large Southeastern Cities. Immergluck worked with two Georgia Tech alums, Ann Carpenter and Abram Lueders.

A Georgia Tech doctoral student, Elora Raymond, wrote the other paper, Negative Equity in the Sixth Federal Reserve District. This district includes Georgia, Alabama and Florida, and parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Raymond acknowledged Immergluck for his assistance.

Declines in Low-Cost Housing determined that rents rose by 23.4 percent in the South during the three years ending in 2015.

In Atlanta, in 2010, 52.4 percent of all renter households spent more than 30 percent of their income on rent. By 2014, the rate rose 1 percent, to 53.4 percent.

Atlanta, needle dropped

This needle was dropped across the street from a row of vacant and boarded up houses near South Atlanta Park. Credit: David Pendered

The stunning number is the proportion of renters who earn less than $35,000 a year who are spending more than 30 percent of income on housing. In 2010, the rate was 79.9 percent. By 2014, it rose a whopping 3.6 percent, meaning that 83.5 percent of Atlanta households in that income bracket are spending more than they can reasonably afford for housing.

Negative Equity determined that the Atlanta fed district had the highest percentage of any fed district for homes with negative equity, that is homes that are described as underwater.

The Atlanta fed trails only the Chicago fed for the number of ZIP codes that are in the worst 20 percent. Atlanta fed had 843 ZIP codes at the end of second quarter 2014, compared to 938 in the Chicago fed. Dallas fed had the least, at 99.

A sentence in the abstract does seem to speak directly to Winslow’s remarks:

  • “I find that even after controlling for the housing market crash, the places with persistent high negative equity are in predominantly black ZIP codes with longer commute times, higher unemployment rates, and high rental vacancy rates.”



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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1 Comment

  1. welovebuhi May 18, 2016 10:55 am

    SaportaReport can we give every kid who needs a summer job a job fixing our houses and infrastructure? #youth #workforcedevelopment #jobsReport


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