Finding affordable housing is a problem for many working people across the country, and it’s even worse in Atlanta.
For the upper middle class and wealthy, Atlanta is considered affordable, boasting large houses with private yards for the same price as a space half as big in places like New York City, Washington D.C., California, and Chicago. With growing businesses bringing high-paying jobs to the city, there is an unprecedented demand for luxury homes, and prices have risen to meet that demand.
For working class and lower income people, this presents a grueling reality: affordable housing is almost impossible to come by.
“I would say for the better part of 10 to 15 years, we’ve been underbuilding,” Atlanta Realtors Association President Michael Fischer told Georgia Voice. “A record number of homes were built before the 2007 market crash. After the 2007 crash, for five to 10 years there was a general caution about getting invested in big projects. With fewer big developments happening, we see less of the starter home. It’s less risky to build five $1 million homes than it is to build 20 homes for the same price.”
Stretching back further than 2007, housing affordability has been an issue affecting more and more people by the decade. As the cost of living has skyrocketed over the past 50 years, wages have remained virtually stagnant, creating high levels of inequity.
From 1979 to 2021, productivity in the U.S. economy rose 64 percent, but wages only rose 17 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute. From 1979 to 2015, the income of the highest earning people — one percent of the population — grew five times faster than that of the bottom 90 percent, also according to the Economic Policy Institute.
This has created a reality in which most working people don’t have the ability to buy a house. The majority of millennials and Generation Z in the U.S. are renting because they can’t afford to purchase a house, according to CNBC. Millennials cited rising real estate prices as their main financial roadblock, while Generation Z cited low wages.
The average rent in Atlanta is over 12 percent higher than the national average, according to an apartmentlist.com report released in April. The same month, a study by real estate company Redfin found that rent in Atlanta and the metro area had actually decreased by 2.3 percent since March 2022.
While rent has decreased slightly since last year, the rent is still about $300 more today than it was just three years ago, according to the same study. Wages did rise during that time, but inflation rose even more, according to Statista. In March 2021, inflation increased significantly more than wages, a trend that continued until this February, when the two finally evened out.
Now, for the first time in years, wages are increasing more than inflation. While this is good news, it is underscored by the fact that the U.S. average hourly earnings are only $11, down from $11.74 in 2020, also according to Statista. This suggests that the overall raising of U.S. wage averages does not necessarily reflect a rise in wages for hourly workers.
The decrease in rent and inflation seems to suggest a gradual return to a stronger, prepandemic economy, although housing affordability was an issue long before then.
Fischer believes that one obvious solution is to create more affordable housing, but that’s easier said than done.
“Some municipalities are openly against any type of housing that will be more affordable,” Fischer said. “They actively try to attract high incomes, not looking at the needs of the community [so much as] focusing on keeping property values as high as possible … [One city] banned any siding other than brick, and that can raise the price of a house $30–$40 thousand.”
The lack of affordable housing is such a prevalent issue that the Atlanta Realtors Association created an affordable and equitable housing committee to raise awareness about affordable housing and help first-time home buyers. The group’s Government Affairs committee advocates against legislation like the aforementioned ordinance.
For apartment renters, there is some good news. Because of an influx of apartment developments, rent prices are expected to slightly decrease, according to the National Association of Realtors Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.
To create long-term systemic change, advocacy and activist organizations like the Housing Justice League organize protests and public information campaigns and call for public policy changes, like instituting rent control.
If you are facing hunger, eviction, or homelessness and need immediate assistance, visit atlantamission.org/get-help or call 404-588-4000. Help can also be found at hopeatlanta.org/get-help.
Covenant House provides shelter and support to those experiencing homelessness and is at 1559 Johnson Rd. NW in Atlanta. You can call them at 404-589-0163.
For LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness in Atlanta, contact Lost N Found Youth at lnfy.org/get-help or call the 24/7 crisis hotline at 470-571-0571.