This is the fourth in a series of op-eds by members of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Millennial Advisory Panel. This panel of 135 young leaders was selected from 400 applicants and worked for the past six months to generate solutions to some of the Atlanta region’s thorniest issues. This editorial is by Jason Dozier, Manager, Plans and Operations at Hire Heroes USA, who is representing ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #4, on the issue of “healthy livable communities.”
The Atlanta region is globally renowned for many things, though perhaps none more than the region’s rapid transformation from a quiet railroad terminus into a modern, international metropolis.
Civic zeal helped usher in an era of investment in public transportation infrastructure, publicly funded, state-of-the-art sports arenas, miles of highway construction and the world’s busiest passenger airport. This can-do attitude helped metro Atlanta land the 1996 Olympic Games and positioned the city for a place in the pantheon of world-class cities.
But there’s now a new civic challenge facing the region. Metro Atlanta’s job market is finally booming after years of economic stagnation in the wake of the Great Recession.
In Dunwoody, State Farm is building an office complex that will accommodate up to 10,000 workers. In Sandy Springs, the North American headquarters for Mercedes-Benz promises to employ many hundreds of workers. And, in Midtown, NCR’s in-town relocation will add 3,600 jobs to one of the City of Atlanta’s major economic centers.
These developments did not happen in a vacuum. Transit accessibility played an important role in compelling these companies to relocate. Affordable housing should be part of that equation as well.Metro Atlanta is the nation's 6th most expensive metro when housing and transportation costs are considered. Click To Tweet
Metro Atlanta’s success is largely the result of a mutually beneficial relationship between private employers and the region’s diverse and educated population. The Atlanta region is able to attract companies due to its strong talent pool and the low cost of doing business here. Workers enjoy living here because of the region’s high quality of life and low cost of living. But many companies find that once the housing costs are evaluated, many of their employees cannot afford to live near available transit options.
While it’s true that Atlanta has one of the most affordable housing markets in the country, it’s actually the sixth most expensive metropolitan area to live when housing costs are coupled with transportation costs. Unfortunately, much of the area’s affordable housing stock tends to be located in suburban communities with few transportation choices, cultural amenities or employment centers.
Metro Atlantans spend more than 130 hours each year commuting to work alone, and our economic competitiveness ultimately suffers because of it. Concentrating affordable housing far from jobs affects worker productivity and raises the cost of living.We all stand to benefit by mandating smart, equitable development. Click To Tweet
We can alter this reality. We need to focus our energy on creating more affordable housing choices in urban and suburban neighborhoods while building a more equitable region. We cannot sustain our current development patterns when metro Atlanta is projected to have three million additional residents by 2040. We all stand to benefit by mandating smart, equitable development.
What can we do to increase affordable housing options throughout the Atlanta region? Here are some suggestions:
- Financing and building affordable housing options in conjunction with transit-oriented development. We can decrease transportation costs for lower and middle-income households by locating mixed-income housing, daily services, schools and jobs near existing transit. This would enable residents to save money, improve their economic opportunities and ultimately improve the regional economy.
- Promoting mixed-income housing, new amenities and job training in low-income neighborhoods can spur economic development in historically disinvested communities. We should seek new local sources of funding to finance these initiatives.
- Employing market-driven solutions, such as the removal of traditional zoning requirements that include parking mandates. This would enable developers to build additional units of housing in land-constrained communities.
- Adopting inclusionary zoning policies. Mandatory inclusionary zoning would ensure that developers allocate a portion of new construction to residents with low or moderate incomes. Various complimentary incentives to this policy, such as low income tax credits, density bonuses and tax abatements would allow developers to recapture a portion of construction costs.
Voters, the officials they elect and the companies that hire them must work together to set the conditions for a more equitable and economically sustainable region. If we are going to continue attracting the workers companies want to hire, we must have affordable, livable housing near urban and suburban work centers with access to transit.
If we act now, we can ensure that the entire region will be livable and economically competitive in the years and decades to come.
Watch Action Team #4 make their pitch for affordable housing options in metro Atlanta.
Learn more about ARC’s Millennial Advisory Panel at: newvoices.atlantaregional.com.
Coner Sen also contributed to this article.
Jason Dozier and Coner Sen, along with Jibran Shermohammed, Reid Stewart, Lindsey Wiles, Joe Baumann, Kara Keene Cooper. Erica Garfinkel and Laura Moody represent ARC Millennial Advisory Pane Action Team #4.