Election season is gearing up, with a host of candidates qualifying at the end of August.

There are more than a dozen vying to become Atlanta mayor, and there are contested seats in Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Brookhaven.

In the coming weeks, Reporter Newspapers will present an online guide to the candidates across the four communities we serve.

Reporter Newspapers and the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber are also hosting a candidate forum for the Sandy Springs mayor and city council races. It’s set for Sept. 27 at North Springs High School.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

We hope you learn about your local candidates. There are so many issues, from the ongoing pandemic to a violent crime wave in Atlanta.

Another complex conversation is around future growth in metro Atlanta.

The Atlanta Regional Commission predicts the 21-county Atlanta region could add 2.9 million people by 2050. That’s like all of Denver moving to Atlanta. And the latest Census data shows Georgia growing more urban and diverse.

How do we balance the growth?

“There’s nothing harder to talk about, or maybe more emotional,” said Bill Bolling, founder of the Atlanta Regional Housing Forum, which led an August discussion around residential zoning. “Simply put, we don’t have enough affordable, or for that matter, enough of any kind of housing.”

Home prices are soaring. In July, the average sales price in metro Atlanta was $441,500, according to the Sandy Springs-based Atlanta Realtors Association. That was up 20% from July 2020.

It’s higher in the local community, according to data from Carson Matthews with Dorsey Alston Realtors. The average sales price in July 2021 was $774,641 in Buckhead, $607,424 in Dunwoody/Brookhaven, and $589,723 in Sandy Springs.

“It’s not sustainable to go on like this,” Brookhaven resident Juli St. George, a realtor with Keller Williams Realty, said earlier this summer.

Rents are surging, too. Melanie Couchman, a founder of Sandy Springs Together, said in the August housing forum that developers are buying and renovating aging apartment complexes in the city and charging higher rates. The loss of affordable housing, she said, is hurting the diversity of the community.

“Our renters are being displaced because they’re being priced out of their apartments,” she said, adding that Sandy Springs has a supply gap of 5,270 rental units and 1,800 homes. “Without a diverse choice of housing, we will lose that diversity.”

Atlanta architect Eric Kronberg in the August housing forum said that the city of Atlanta is producing about 5,170 housing units per year, with about 85% of those units being apartments. He said, in order to accommodate the future population growth, the city should be producing 16,600 housing units per year, with more units from accessory dwelling units (ADUs), duplexes, single-family homes and townhomes.

A slide from Atlanta architect Eric Kronberg’s presentation in August, examining the housing needs of Atlanta.

Housing issues contribute to other problems. A 2019 study by Livable Buckhead and the Buckhead Community Improvement District framed housing affordability as a traffic congestion issue, saying most of Buckhead’s workers can’t afford to live there.

Some cities are looking for solutions. Sandy Springs has considered inclusionary zoning. Brookhaven has discussed protections for Buford Highway residents who might be in the path of redevelopment.

And Atlanta is proposing zoning changes aimed at creating more density, such as allowing more flexibility to build ADUs, reducing parking requirements, and rezoning property within a half-mile of a MARTA station for small apartment buildings. The ideas have been criticized by groups including the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods.

Residents at an August meeting of Neighborhood Planning Unit-B meeting said the zoning changes would alter the character of their neighborhoods and deplete the city’s tree canopy, among other issues.

“Residents want our planners to consider alternatives that build growth in a manner that preserves neighborhood character, such as modification of older properties, creative reuse of abandoned structures, use of vacant properties along growth corridors,” NPU-B Chair Nancy Bliwise told Reporter Newspapers in a statement. “Coordinated regional approaches such as those that create housing near job centers, connected by transportation, can also meet [the] need.”

The upcoming election is our chance to press elected officials on growth and housing issues. It’s complex but important to our future.

Amy Wenk

Amy Wenk is Editor of Reporter Newspapers. She can be reached at editor@reporternewspapers.net