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Georgia Aims to Grow Workforce Housing Amid Statewide Housing Shortage

A shortage of housing for Georgia’s growing workforce is becoming a greater issue for the state’s economic prospects as it works to attract more manufacturers and big businesses who want to know where their employees will live.

The issue “wasn’t high on the list years ago, but now they’re asking more about their workers” including where employees might live affordably based on the wages they would earn and how far their daily commute to the job would be, said Clint Mueller, director of governmental affairs for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said Wednesday at the Georgia Association of Land Bank Authorities summit in Macon.

Representatives from land banks from across the state attend the yearly summit to learn about upcoming legislative issues that stand to affect the operations and powers of land banks.

“Anytime something comes up, we want to be able to react to it,” Macon-Bibb County Land Bank Executive Director Everett Verner said. “You can’t do that as a bunch of different voices.”

The 2023 Georgia Housing Needs Assessment reports the state’s housing inventory is inadequate for all income levels and it can’t expand fast enough to meet the increasing demand. In 2020, the homeowner vacancy rate was 2%, indicating an extremely tight housing market. Meanwhile, the median cost of rent was up by 7.6% in 2020 compared to 2015, according to the report.

For nearly a third of residents, housing was unaffordable in 2019, according to the report. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs defines affordable housing as a household that spends no more than 30% of income on housing costs.

Ensuring potentially large employers are satisfied with what they learn about housing options for their employees is a top priority for Gov. Brian Kemp, who recently celebrated the 10th consecutive year Georgia has been named the no. 1 state for business by Area Development magazine.

Auto manufacturers such as Hyundai Motor Group EV, Rivian and Kia each picked sites in areas outside large urban cities where there is less population density.

“Building a single family home on even a quarter acre is not affordable anymore,” Muller said. “The governor is really interested in what we do to provide more tools and incentives to counties and cities to create more workforce housing.”

Last year, Kemp directed the ACCG last year to create an ad hoc workforce housing task force to make recommendations for possible solutions ahead of the upcoming legislative session. The task force includes ACCG, Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the Home Builders Association of Georgia, Georgia Association of Realtors, Georgia Municipal Association and Habitat for Humanity. The recommendations are expected to be presented to the legislature next month.

“We’re not really talking about subsidized housing, they’re talking about how do we bring market rate housing down to an affordable level,” Mueller said.

The idea is to create density in areas near job sites such as townhouses, condominiums, tiny homes or “just anything that would get a more affordable price point is what they’re looking for,” Mueller said, adding that manufacturers seek large swaths of land at a low price, which rarely is located in areas with a high population density.

Building condos and townhouses to build housing density in areas that are by and large rural or suburban can be controversial.

“That’s always a challenge …. If there hasn’t been anything like that in your area, you get a lot of resistance,” Mueller said. “So we’re trying to figure out how to help our local officials address that resistance that they frequently come in contact with.”

Creating new housing density also requires extending infrastructure to those areas, which is not cheap.

Mueller said the legislators are expected to take up Community Development Districts, defined areas in which an extra charge on property tax assessments would help counties pay off tax exempt bonds used to finance the expansion of water, sewer and power lines. Texas and Florida actively use Community Development Districts.

“We’re looking at incentives. We’re looking for funding for infrastructure,” Mueller said of the task force charged with making recommendations. “Anything that comes out of this will carry a lot of weight.”

In a separate matter, Mueller updated the land bank summit attendees on legislative business expected next year. Among expected legislation is a resolution that would give county tax commissioners the power to seek approval from their counties to sell tax-delinquent properties for less than the amount of taxes owed, Mueller said.

Verner said he understood the property would have to be twice auctioned by a county and attract no bidders before a tax commissioner could sell it to the highest bidder at an amount lesser than the taxes owed.

“I’m gonna say as a sticking point from the land bank’s perspective: if it’s already failed two bids that means we’ve already passed on it once,” Verner said.

Source: GPB