Over the past few years, affordable housing in the Athens-Clarke County area has become more scarce for low-income families, said the employees of two local organizations.
Jocelyn Crumpton, shelter coordinator of the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, and Spencer Frye, state representative for Georgia House District 118 and executive director of the Athens Habitat for Humanity, both spoke on affordable housing issues they see happening around the community.
“If you’re making minimum wage working 40-50 hours a week…affordable housing for you would roughly cost around $390,” said Crumpton. “There is no place in Athens, if you’re not in [a] low-income housing community, that you can rent for that price.”
Since housing should typically only cost 30 percent of your annual income, Crumpton calculated affordable housing numbers by looking at the total budget families making minimum wage in Athens should set aside per month.
In fact, according to the United States Census Bureau, the median rent for an apartment unit in Athens-Clarke County costs roughly $800, and according to Forbes, the average price for a home is around $171,000.Why it’s Newsworthy: According to Data USA, the poverty rate in Athens-Clarke County is 25.9 percent, which is higher than the national average. Organizations, such as the ones featured here, are stepping in to offer assistance to help residents in need find affordable housing in the community.
Frye added governmental decisions also decrease housing affordability in the area.
“Any small rule that the government makes regarding housing increases the price of housing,” said Frye. “This includes housing construction, zoning decisions, and lot and house size decisions.”
In addition, Crumpton said that while a typical two-bedroom apartment in Athens is currently going for $595- $650, “five years ago…. clients could find a two bedroom for around $495.”
Crumpton and Frye both said this increase in price is not only attributed to rising house prices nationally, but also is in relation to the University of Georgia’s students as well.
“Being in a college town makes us a special place in the sense of landlords,” said Crumpton. “Instead of [landlords] renting out a home for $800 a family, they can rent it out to students for $1,500 knowing that three roommates would pay $500 each.”
Frye added un-taxable land is also increasing prices around the area.
“Approximately 50 percent of our land cannot be taxed by property tax…which drives up taxes on all the existing taxable property,” Frye said.
Crumpton said these heightened prices have a detrimental impact on low-income families, which sometimes leads them to the Athens Area Homeless Shelter.
“We had a parent come into the shelter this past year because it was either her child’s medical bills or her house,” said Crumpton. “We see a lot of that. We see people choosing to pay for other things, like food or childcare.”
An in-depth description of what the Athens Area Homeless Shelter is and how it helps families looking for affordable housing is featured in the audio story below.
Similarly, Frye mentioned Athens Area Habitat for Humanity provides rental units for families that need an affordable place to live.
“For folks that are on fixed incomes or working minimum wage, we will charge about $300 to $350 for a two-bedroom duplex,” said Frye. “It’s a great opportunity for them to afford housing.”
While Crumpton and Frye both acknowledge finding a solution to housing affordability is not a simple fix, they do think there are some steps that can be taken to help the situation.
“I always tell people to vote because that can really change things,” said Crumpton.
Similarly, Frye hopes Athens’ new commissioners will implement some of the housing polices they have been advocating to help with the issue of affordable housing. This includes a property tax freeze for low-income seniors and a push for inclusionary zoning.
“There are great opportunities for the city to step up and take action towards their verbal commitment to making housing more affordable in Athens,” said Frye. “Hopefully we’ll see some of that in the future.”
Rebecca Nauth is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.