In the wake of skyrocketing rents and home prices, the city of Sandy Springs plans to pursue an affordable housing study.
The study was discussed at a Jan. 23 City Council retreat.
“The greatest source of family wealth is your house,” Mayor Rusty Paul said at the retreat. “We’ve got a whole generation of young families and singles that are not able to buy homes.”
Paul said the city needs to focus on making sure both rental and buying opportunities are present for working-class families.
The new city manager, Andrea Surratt, has both interest and experience in housing affordability. Bozeman, Montana, conducted an affordable housing study while Surratt was its city manager.
That city is still in the works of creating a policy, Surratt said, but the report recommended a community-wide stakeholder group to help develop the policy and hold the city accountable for it.
“The consultant said ultimately, the best way to implement this is to make sure there is involvement across the community,” Suratt said at the retreat. “Take it out of city government and it lives in another group.”
There is no timeline on when the Sandy Springs study will be pursued. Paul said he wants the study to look at both the current housing situation in the city and how it may change.
“It’s not just telling us what is, but we’ve got to use it as a process to figure out what can be,” Paul said.
Paul said he also wants to see the turnover in the housing market, both in apartments and houses, as part of the study, to be able to better gauge the needs of the community.
“There’s barely a week that goes by when you get an apartment complex that isn’t sold,” Paul said. “You know that rents are going to go up, but how much and what will be the impact of that? There’s a whole wide range of questions.”
City Council members were supportive of the initiative, agreeing that it should be a priority for the city.
“I think the first big step is saying that it is important,” City Councilmember Andy Bauman said at the retreat.
“We have to ask ourselves ‘What do we have today?’ and ‘Where do we go from here?’” City Councilmember John Paulson said.
Affordable housing has been a concern in the city for years. In 2017, the city announced it would be implementing inclusionary zoning into its Development Code, but decided at the last minute to kill the idea.
In 2018, the city formed the North End Revitalization Task Force. One of the objectives of the group was to propose an affordable housing policy, but one was never produced.
Affordable housing advocacy group Sandy Springs Together, formed by longtime residents David and Melanie Couchman, have been pushing for the city to conduct a study for over a year. On Feb. 12, SST sent out a newsletter urging the community to encourage the city to consider an affordable housing study before redesigning the shopping centers in the North End.
“Why not take the simple step to do a housing impact study before we redesign shopping centers in Sandy Springs?” the newsletter asked.
The city currently has two pilot workforce housing programs with local apartment complexes. It has worked out 10-year agreements that require units be set aside for workforce housing, which is intended to ensure housing for primarily middle-income, but also lower-income, households.