Martha Herrera is a single mother who is working this summer at the Boys & Girls Club on North Druid Hills. During the school year, she works as a receptionist at Ashford Park Elementary School. She attends Brookhaven Presbyterian Church.
“Everything I do is in Brookhaven,” she said.
But she can’t afford to live in Brookhaven.
“I have never been able to live in Brookhaven,” she said. “It’s a little bit pricey.”
Instead, Herrera and her two young children, who also attend Ashford Park Elementary, live in Clarkston, approximately 14 miles southeast of Brookhaven.
“I drive to work … it’s about 25 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes back to my apartment in the evening because of traffic,” she said.
Herrera pays $832.75 a month for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Clarkston. In Brookhaven, she said she could only find one bedrooms for $800 to $900 a month.
Affordable housing in Brookhaven is becoming such a problem in the city as developers propose mixed-use developments and “luxury” apartments that city faith leaders are now stepping up and asking the City Council to do something.
At the June 21 council meeting, Rev. Zach Bradley of Brookhaven Presbyterian Church read a letter signed by 12 pastors from different congregations and denominations urging the council “to study the stock of and need for affordable housing so as to ensure its long-term availability for our neighbors who are in need.”
“This is one issue we feel we cannot hold our tongues,” Bradley said in an interview.
Rev. David Park of Open Table Community Church, a small church with a mission of serving minorities, knows first-hand about being priced out of a home.
His church was located in Chamblee until it was forced this spring to relocate to Brookhaven to share a space with Skyland Church on Skyland Terrace. The church could no longer afford the rent at its old location.
“We want cities to grow… but we want them to understand this could affect their diversity as well,” Park said.
Specifically, Park said rising rents are currently forcing out many in the Latino community, especially those living on and near Buford Highway. Bradley noted that gentrification has already pushed out many African-American families that lived for generations in Lynwood Park as developers moved in and built higher-priced homes.
Last year, Bryton Hills Apartments, across the street from Skyland Church, was torn down to make room for three-story townhomes priced in the high $400,000s. Many of the residents in the 58-year-old complex near Clairmont Road and Buford Highway were Latino.
“And now all those families are scattered to the wind,” Park said.
A 2014 Buford Highway economic study commissioned by the city of Brookhaven states at the time there were 19 older complexes (built between 1956 and 1977) with a total of 2,199 apartments, and seven newer complexes (built after 1984) with a total of 1,909 apartments.
The vacancy rate for the older complexes, with rent for a one-bedroom as low as $655 a month, was “very low,” the report stated. Rents for the newer complexes were between $845 and $1,150 a month for a one-bedroom apartment and the vacancy rate was also very low, according to the study.
Marquis Investments purchased eight complexes on Buford Highway in 2013, according to the company’s website and the 2014 report. A division of Dunwoody-based Crown Holdings Group, Marquis Investments purchases real estate and implements its “3R Strategy” to “Recapitalize, Renovate and Reposition” to capitalize its multi-family assets, according to the study and the company’s website.
And while the rent for a one-bedroom in a Marquis complex ranged between $660 and $715 per month, “successful implementation of the ‘3R Strategy’ by Marquis Investments will likely result in steady rent increases in the Marquis Properties,” the report stated.
A study for development at the Brookhaven MARTA station said the 2013 median income for the Atlanta region is $66,300, which allows a family of four with a $53,000 income per year to qualify for workforce housing. The study claimed that income was comparable to the average starting salary of a Brookhaven police officer.
Councilmember Joe Gebbia, whose district includes Buford Highway, has long been concerned about affordable housing, or workforce housing. He has said he favors zoning regulations to ensure there is affordable housing for those who work in the city.
City Councilmember Linley Jones lived on the eastern side of Buford Highway near North Druid Hills Road from 1988 until 1991 while attending college and her first year of law school, and working as a hostess at a nearby restaurant. She and a roommate paid $535 rent for a spacious apartment, she said.
“It was a huge apartment by today’s standards,” she said. “And obviously those of us who lived there were low-wage earners, and part of the complex was Section 8 as well.”
Affordable housing is also a traffic issue, Jones said, because if people cannot afford to live where they work, they must commute.
Jones said she will be proposing at the July 12 City Council meeting a voluntary task force be organized to consider affordable housing.
“We in Brookhaven are lucky to have a good situation right now with different housing opportunities, but if we are not careful, that could be compromised,” she said.
Park worries that owners of apartment complexes will want to entice developers to buy their property. Already he said he is hearing of landlords raising rents or requiring monthly leases. The uncertainty of living situations can affect a community’s spirit, he said.
“Our morality and our business sense are not talking to each other,” he said. “Our hope is that we put this issue in the conscience of the city leaders.”