Two Georgia counties saw some of the biggest housing growth in the U.S.

The tree-lined Main Street in downtown Madison, the seat of Morgan County, about an hour east of Atlanta. (Blake Guthrie)

Combined ShapeCaption
The tree-lined Main Street in downtown Madison, the seat of Morgan County, about an hour east of Atlanta. (Blake Guthrie)

Morgan and Long counties see new housing units grow by more than 5% in one year, federal report says.

Two Georgia counties ranked near the top of the nation for their rates of growth in housing units, according to data released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Morgan County, located about an hour east of Atlanta down I-20, reported growth in new housing units of 5.2% from July 2020 to July of last year, tied for fourth in the nation with two other counties, according to the report. Long County, near the Georgia coast, was close behind at 5%.

Rhonda Smith, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Premiere, who works in Morgan County and around Lake Oconee, said the pandemic and remote work have benefitted the real estate market both for new and resale homes.

“First and foremost, we’re seeing with COVID and people being able to work remotely, a lot of my clients are from out of state,” she said. “They say ‘We can work from anywhere.’”

The new housing growth report was included in the Census Bureau’s annual population estimates for U.S. cities and towns.

Home prices in metro Atlanta and across the nation have soared during the pandemic in part because of a lack of available inventory. The nation simply isn’t building enough housing to meet demand, which is causing rents and home prices to climb.

Home sales in metro Atlanta were down a bit in April, but prices continued to grow last month. The median price of a home sold last month in the extended, 28-county region was $385,000 — up 4% in a month and 23% higher than the price in April a year ago, according to Re/Max, which tracks transactions across a 28-county region.

The Federal Reserve has increased its benchmark interest rates to try to tame inflation, and that in turn has propelled home mortgage rates higher. Higher rates on home loans are likely to cool demand for housing and home price growth along with it — and could put the squeeze on home building as well.

Nearly all states reported at least modest housing unit growth from July 2020 to July 2021, the census report said. That period is before some of the worst of the supply chain and inflation issues that have upended sectors across the economy, including homebuilding.

Madison, a charming city of antebellum homes, is the county seat for Morgan County. It’s also a bedroom community for Athens and Atlanta. Many who live in Morgan County like the convenience of being able to quickly reach Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, or Athens and Augusta, but prefer small town living, Smith said.

Madison has the arts, nice restaurants, walkability in its historic downtown and quality schools, she said. Much of the county is still active farmland, Smith said, meaning developable lots are relatively difficult to come by and remain expensive.

Madison has been a popular tourist draw for years, Smith said. Now many of its visitors are choosing to stay, she said, with about 75% of her clients hailing from outside the area.

“They sell elsewhere and buy into the lifestyle,” she said.

Morgan County and neighboring Walton County will soon be home to the $5 billion Rivian electric vehicle factory, which could lead to further development of the area.

That has thrilled some in Morgan County and caused dread for others.

Rivian has promised to create 7,500 jobs at the factory, where the company will build electric vans, trucks and SUVs and the batteries to power them.

On Wednesday, the Morgan County Board of Assessors approved a rental agreement that is a key piece of the $1.5 billion incentive package offered to the electric vehicle company.

Morgan County is home to more than 20,600 residents according to 2021 census estimates, up 2.7% from a year earlier.

Other communities with the biggest jumps in housing growth were also in the South.

Rockwall County, Texas, near Dallas, reported the biggest growth in housing units at 6.5%. Chambers County, Texas, near Houston, was second at 5.7%. Jasper County, South Carolina, between Savannah and Hilton Head Island, was third at 5.4%.

Georgia’s Morgan County and Hays and Comal counties in metro San Antonio, Texas, shared the fourth spot with housing growth of 5.2%.

Fort Bend County, Texas, near Houston (5.1%), and Long County, Georgia (5%), were the next-fastest growing for new housing units. Long County is near Fort Stewart and the fast-growing Savannah area.

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The population report said cities and towns in the South and West of the country reported the most population growth in the 12 months ended in July.

Eight of the fastest-growing larger cities in the nation by percentage growth were in the West and seven were in the South.

Two Texas cities, Georgetown and Leander, reported year-over-year population growth of more than 10%, the most of any other cities in the U.S.

-Staff writer Michael E. Kanell contributed to this report.

Fast growth in new homes

The U.S. Census Bureau reported counties across the South ranked among the fastest growing for new housing units.

Rockwall County, Texas (6.5%)

Chambers County, Texas (5.7%)

Jasper County, South Carolina (5.4%)

Morgan County, Georgia (5.2%)

Hays County, Texas (5.2%)

Comal County, Texas (5.2%)

Fort Bend County, Texas (5.1%)

Long County, Georgia (5.0%)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

A note of disclosure

Cox Enterprises, owner of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, also owns about a 4% stake in Rivian and supplies services to the company. Sandy Schwartz, a Cox executive who oversees the AJC, is on Rivian’s board of directors and holds stock personally. He does not take part in the AJC’s coverage of Rivian.