Can we still afford Atlanta?
For decades, one of Atlanta’s draws was its relative affordability. A person surviving in a shoebox in Manhattan could move here and—even with a lower salary—easily find a bigger space. Perhaps with a walk-in closet. Want to buy a house? There were plenty of close-in neighborhoods where you could start a family, build wealth, and grow old.
Yes, those were the days. Until they weren’t. After the Great Recession, the housing market bounced back with a vengeance. Pent-up demand created by a new generation of workers in a new kind of economy, many of whom wanted to live in the city, spawned new luxury apartments. Investors who had the capital to snatch up foreclosed homes during the crisis controlled a sizable part of the single-family market.
Neighborhoods that used to be great places to find a starter home, like Old Fourth Ward and Ormewood Park, started to seem out of reach for many middle-class households. Longtime residents felt the crunch when their property taxes came due. Apartment dwellers saw the median rent rise nearly 50 percent between the start and the end of the 2010s. Every year, on average, the city loses 1,500 affordable units.
Atlanta will never be New York or San Francisco, but without city officials, developers, and neighborhoods taking action, the city that regularly tops lists of places with the worst income inequality—and a region with growing poverty in the suburbs—could lose its footing as a livable city for the middle class. We looked into how we got to this point (it’s complicated) and some of the ways we can get out of the hole we’re in (build a lot more housing, of all types, for starters). We also spoke with readers about how they spend their money in today’s Atlanta and explored where they can find an affordable place in the metro—at least for now.
These articles appear in our April 2020 issue and were written prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Atlanta.