Sandy Springs needs more affordable housing, officials told

2015 construction of apartments at  Gateway mixed-use development. Three years earlier, two older apartment communities were demolished to make way for the construction.  PHOTO / JASON GETZ

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

2015 construction of apartments at Gateway mixed-use development. Three years earlier, two older apartment communities were demolished to make way for the construction. PHOTO / JASON GETZ

Sandy Springs is losing its most financially vulnerable residents through displacement and the high cost of housing, a consultant told city officials this week. He warned the city is at risk of becoming a less attractive destination for employers of jobs at all income levels.

Over the last decade, Sandy Springs focused on redevelopment for higher income earners. But data shows there are now fewer single family home options for first-time homebuyers earning a moderate income and renters earning even less.

Matthew Bedsole, a senior analyst with HR&A Advisors, told the City Council Tuesday that 81% of single-family homes in Sandy Springs are sold above $400,000.

“If low and moderate income households can’t afford to live in the city then maybe certain types of employers aren’t going to be looking to the city quite as readily,” he said.

Sandy Springs officials plan to use the study to figure out a new housing policy that includes affordable housing. That could include changing land-use regulations in order to repurpose vacant shopping centers.

The city hired HR&A a few months ago to study the housing needs of residents from lower income to the most wealthy.

Renters earning less than $55,000 per year are leaving Sandy Springs because they can’t find an affordable place to live, Bedsole said. About 1,000 apartment units have been demolished since 2010 and rent prices have increased substantially after renovations at other apartment properties, also causing less well-off renters to depart, he said.

Rent prices have increased three times faster than incomes over the last couple of years, according to HR&A. An 800-square-foot apartment renting for $800 per month in 2011 is $1,050 today, Bedsole said.

The consultants estimate up to 350 homes were demolished between 2011 and 2020 and replaced with more expensive single family residences. Some valued at $1 million or more, Bedsole said.

“These teardowns are usually occurring in two primary areas,” Bedsole said. “These (are) older lot homes around the City Center, built in the ’50s and the ’60s; a lot of ranch homes that have been torn down and replaced. And then a lot heading towards Chastain Park in the south.”

Sandy Springs officials have been in an increasing quandary as the city has sought to address worries about displacement, housing affordability and the redevelopment demands of more wealthy residents living in high-end homes in the city’s north end.

That neighborhood is a blend of residents with some in homes priced over $1 million and others in older apartments complexes and townhomes. The area also includes the Community Assistance Center where clients rely on its food pantry.

A small amount of redevelopment is already underway in the north end. Ellison Park, a new housing development under construction by David Weekley Homes has started showing its model townhome with prices starting at $450,000.

Less than three miles away two older apartment communities built in the 1980s and formerly called Cascade at Morgan Falls and The Fountains at Morgan Falls are scheduled to get a major renovation in 2021 to make them more upscale. Carroll real estate investment company purchased them in October and plans to invest more than $30 million in overhauling the apartments, and another complex purchased in Marietta, The Columns at Bentley Manor, a statement said.

Sandy Springs' first major redevelopment project of the early 2010s started at the south end of the city. The Gateway mixed-use development led to lower income, mostly non-English-speaking residents, being displaced at Chastain and Versailles apartments in 2013.

Redevelopment also resulted in displacement of residents at two other apartment complexes. Provence North and Park 225 which were torn down in 2015.

Redevelopment of downtown Sandy Springs two years later brought several luxury apartment buildings such as Square One, Modera, Adley City Springs, The Cliftwood and separately construction of new family homes. That spurred upgrades at older apartment communities, resulting in increased rent prices that forced many low to moderate income renters to move out of the city, HR&A’s study showed.

Last week, Mayor Rusty Paul told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the city needs housing for teachers, landscapers and other people of a wide range of income levels.

“Kids who grew up in Sandy Springs can’t afford to live in here,” Paul said. “We just had two large complexes that sold for a lot of money. That means continued pressure on rents for people living here and working in service jobs.”

That was echoed by Bedsole during Tuesday’s meeting. Employers who hire service and essential workers are concerned about retaining staff and attracting new hires because of the housing challenges, Bedsole said. And they want employees to be able to live close to work.

Based on the housing study, the consultants advised Sandy Springs to think of older apartment complexes as affordable assets that can help the city to continue to attract employers.

HR&A Partner Phillip Kash told City Council members that a change in land-use regulations in addition to some type of subsidy to reduce construction costs or rents could make affordable housing attractive to developers.

That’s something the city could be close to considering.

Paul told the AJC that four older shopping center properties that are the focus of a north end advisory committee could perhaps be a site for housing that’s affordable for Sandy Springs' workforce.

Melanie Couchman, of Sandy Springs Together (SST) and an advocate for housing that’s affordable, said displacement comes at a cost to not only the people forced to move but also the community, including schools.

Couchman and her husband David, SST co-founder, served on the city’s task force for ideas on redevelopment in the north end in 2018. The two pushed officials to keep affordable housing in the city. She told the AJC at the time that high housing costs left little room for disposable income for many families, which affects retail and restaurant businesses in Sandy Springs.

Couchman said she’s encouraged by the recent housing study.

“It supports what we’ve been saying for several years,” she said.