Housing is Fundamental to Sustainable Growth in Buckhead
This is a guest post from Sarah Kirsch, executive director – Urban Land Institute, Atlanta
I started my professional career in real estate and land use 20 years ago. The firm I was working for, RCLCO, was located in Lenox Plaza, the midrise building located between Lenox Towers and what was then Dante’s Down the Hatch. I was young and single and it generally took me 15 minutes to drive to and from my home in Peachtree Hills, a single-family house that had been converted into several apartments (an important note but a discussion for a different blog).
It was in this job at RCLCO on a project providing market analytics support to one of the early Livable Centers Initiatives, that I was introduced to the concept of a “jobs to housing ratio.” My colleagues in urban planning explained that the ratio between how many jobs are in a particular submarket and how much housing is offered in that submarket has a lot to do with traffic and congestion in that submarket. The thinking is pretty straightforward… the more housing available, the more likely folks who work in that area will also choose to live in that area, thereby decreasing commute times and increasing the percentage of those who walk, bike and take transit to work. If memory serves, Buckhead’s jobs to housing ratio was somewhere below a “5” when I started this work. That is, for every five jobs, there was one housing unit. In the 20 years since, Buckhead’s jobs to housing ratio has more than doubled to just over 10. Now there are just over 10 jobs for every single housing unit and we all know what has happened with traffic. To put that in clearer context as it relates to traffic, only 2 percent of those who work in Buckhead live in the area. Buckhead has been wildly successful in growing its employment base and attracting new businesses to the area, but the number and diversity of homes has just not kept up with the demand.
Housing, and particularly the connection between housing and transportation, is a critical issue for Atlanta. We are consistently ranked as one of the worst cities for traffic in the country and have one of the highest transportation and housing cost burden indexes in the country, a measurement that shows Atlantans spend more than 67 percent of their combined incomes on housing and transportation alone. We know that to meaningfully address our affordability challenges, we need more housing of all price points, which means we need all hands on deck. It is no secret that the zip codes in and surrounding Buckhead are home to some of the most expensive housing in the region. What may be less known is that Buckhead is home to some 18,000 workers earning less than $35,000 per year, who compete for fewer than 1,500 homes they can afford.
What is clear from these statistics is that we need more housing and more affordable housing to the workforce across our city and region. What’s also clear is there’s no silver bullet to address the challenges across our city, and solutions in one area are not always applicable to another. The unique land use and market conditions in Buckhead warrant a thoughtful approach specific to Buckhead. In an effort to achieve more balanced and inclusive growth, Buckhead CID and Livable Buckhead are doing just that and recently launched the Housing Stratification and Commute Analysis. In pursuit of less traffic, more equitable economic development and a continued competitive edge, this strategy is a critical step for all of our job centers and I look forward to the solutions and collaborations that emerge from Buckhead’s process.