The conservationist’s case for better housing

March 20, 2019
| by Guest Contributor |

For 23 years, in more than 52 communities, Blueprints for Successful Communities has addressed the topic of housing options across the state of Georgia. The Sustainable Growth Program of the Georgia Conservancy offers this community-based planning service to urban neighborhoods, transportation corridors, rural communities, and environmentally sensitive coastal areas.

You might ask, Why is housing a subject of interest to a conservation organization? The answer is simple: The type and location of housing stock have land use, economic, equity, and social justice ramifications for all Georgians, and impact the quality of our natural resources statewide.

The availability of housing options is critical to our state’s economic resilience, and many city and county leaders have indicated to us that housing is a top concern. Our Program recognizes that the increased demands on our land from a shifting population and the complexities of land development exacerbate the accumulation of barriers to housing options. Communities successfully combating a lack of housing diversity and affordability are engaged in a combination of the following:

  • Supplying a variety of housing types (forms and sizes) in our communities
  • Providing a more significant opportunity for residents to attain affordable, safe homes in their community as needs and incomes change
  • Prioritizing location variation – near services and amenities that are important or essential – to a given household’s needs and wants, and
  • Expanding the variety of housing price points and financing options (own/rent).

The Sustainable Growth Program works in our coastal counties to discern the impacts to housing from sea level rise and, in Brunswick specifically, to understand how housing types can shift with market demands. In smaller communities such as the Calumet Park neighborhood of LaGrange (formerly Calumet Village), we demonstrated how a few new housing units could create stability and commercial viability. In Lithonia, just east of Atlanta, we can see the profoundly positive effect the location of housing – nearer to jobs and transportation – has on Main Streets.

When the Sustainable Growth team works with communities to address their housing needs, we perform studies to assess opportunities and challenges, and to make informed determinations about what goes where. The Program also educates and shares lessons from across the state, helping communities learn from one another. Ultimately, the Sustainable Growth Program is assisting Georgia’s communities in leveraging their existing assets, including what to save and what to reuse. Assisted by our great partners’ expertise in “infill” development, market analysis, and zoning, we advance the implementation of housing options.

Communities desiring a resilient future should be concerned about the quality, availability, accessibility, and attainability of dwellings. Quality demands buildings of sound construction, sympathetic to community character, and featuring low maintenance costs. Availability asks whether housing diversity is sufficient to allow residents of all life stages to remain in an area as their needs and income change over time. Accessibility refers to the relationship among housing, jobs, services, and amenities – is there a nearby grocery store or a school and by what means can residents access these? Attainment addresses the cost of housing – according to AARP research, roughly one-third of all Americans are cost-burdened, spending more than 50 percent of their monthly income on a place to live.

Housing has been a significant influencer for our cities and towns to sprawl outward into undeveloped areas. Overall, we lack thoughtfulness and efficiency in what we are building and where. For almost a quarter century, the Sustainable Growth Program has looked at housing from a land stewardship perspective, talked about the topic statewide, and advocated for a geographically-based approach which begins with the adaptation, reuse, and expansion of existing housing stock in proximity to the necessities of life. Our collective goal is to allow for the development and implementation of a broad spectrum of feasible and flexible localized housing options.

How you can help: For the reasons stated above, the Georgia Conservancy strongly opposes House Bill 302 / Senate Bill 172. We believe the bill has the potential to hinder, if not wholly remove, innovations at the local level necessary to address needs or leverage assets related to natural resources, housing, revitalization, or other land use conditions. Please call your local legislators today.

Katherine Moore is Vice President of Programs and Johanna McCrehan is Urban Design Lead at the Georgia Conservancy.

This column originally appeared in a slightly different form on the Thought Leadership column on People, Places, and Parks. To read more content from these, and other Georgia-based nonprofits, click here.

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