Sandy Springs grapples with affordable housing challenges

Since it was incorporated in 2005, Sandy Springs has continued its fast-paced growth.

Boasting a population today of more than 100,000, this city sandwiched between Buckhead to the south and Roswell to the north has drawn thousands of new residents to its upscale neighborhoods, shops and eateries, as well as to its $229 million arts-and-government complex that solidifies the North Fulton community’s position as a modern city.

However, city officials and housing experts say that all of this growth has created a dilemma for Sandy Springs: How do you fix the shortage of affordable housing?

The median price of a home in Sandy Springs is well over twice the Atlanta median: $500,000 in the city compared to $227,500 for all of metro Atlanta, according to Eugene James, the senior regional director at Metrostudy, a company that provides real estate data.

It doesn’t get easier for apartment dwellers. The average monthly rent in Sandy Springs is $1,402 per month, while the average price for Atlanta overall is $879 per month, according to Bruce McClenny, president of

“There are schoolteachers, there are firemen, there are police officers that deserve every right to live in the communities where they serve, including Sandy Springs,” said George Burgan, a spokesman for Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, Inc. “And it’s important that every community, no matter how wealthy or how well appointed it is, provide an opportunity for low and moderate income families to live in those communities.”

Sandy Springs officials recognize the problem and say they are taking action.

‘Little disposable income’

In 2015, the city launched the “Next Ten Comprehensive Plan” to address the lack of affordable housing, as well as other challenges the growing city faces.

As part of the initiative, the city also created a task force. One of the solutions discussed by the task force is to renovate some of the aging apartment complexes built in the 1970s and ’80s into mixed-income housing developments aimed at the “missing middle” of medium-income earners.

Melanie Couchman, a member of the task force, said the lack of affordable housing may impact the Sandy Springs economy in a negative way.

“With housing costs so high there is little disposable income for many families, which depresses a robust economic climate for retail and restaurants,” Couchman said.

A federal housing report said more than 6,000 Sandy Springs residents experience severe housing cost burdens, defined as when housing takes at least 50 percent of monthly income. With housing costs so high, some residents have little extra spending money to add to the economy.

There is also an impact on the school system, Couchman said. Students’ families may need to relocate during the school year to escape rising rent rates, generating a high mobility rate that can affect students’ performance, she said.

Couchman also said that teachers unable to afford living in the city may prefer to work closer to where they can purchase a home or rent an apartment, potentially limiting number of good teachers.

The gap is growing

Moving forward will not be easy. The gap between the cost of housing in Sandy Springs and the cost of housing in other communities around Atlanta is only growing.

Over the past five years, the median price of a home in Sandy Springs has gone up by 25 percent in Sandy Springs, compared to 20 percent for all of Atlanta, according to James of Metrostudy.

For single-family home prices in Sandy Springs, the price point is up about 32 percent since 2013, while in the rest of Atlanta it is up by 18 percent.

“There’s no doubt that housing inventory levels have been at historic lows now for the past four or five years,” James said. “And it’s not just Atlanta, it’s the country. Inventory levels have been low everywhere. So you know there’s this, Economics 101, there’s more demand for houses than there is supply of homes, and that keeps prices up.”

The trick, according to the task force, is simply to build smaller homes with smaller yards. This may involve renovating old apartment complexes to be both desirable and affordable.

“In terms of affordable housing, I think that’s the best that new construction is going to be able to do,” John Hunt, Principle of Market N Sight, said. “Creating a small square-foot brand that brings the price down to a first-time buyer price point.”

The city is also working closely with developers and community advocates to find solutions to its affordability problem.

“I think keeping the foot on the gas pedal of opportunity means opening up more housing equity throughout the region, and that’s only going to help our regional competitiveness in attracting new business,” Burgan said.

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