"We can't commit to the success of Georgia residents without actively working to improve access to affordable housing. It's fundamental for the growth of the state, and for each family who lives here."
Last month, representatives from communities from around the state gathered in a room full of housing experts, architects, non-profit leaders, real estate professionals (and of course, Beluga whales), for a fundamental, in-depth conversation on the state of affordable housing in Georgia. Organized by Georgia Power Community and Economic Development, the summit was held at the Georgia Aquarium, for a full Friday in March. Panels of experts took turns presenting and taking questions from a packed ballroom of more than 300 attendees.
Access to affordable housing is not exclusively a lower income issue- more and more emphasis is being placed on "the missing middle" - teachers, firefighters, office professionals, and manufacturing employees who should be able to afford reasonable housing options, and sometimes can't. Rope Roberts is the community development manager for Northeast Georgia, and was the driving force behind the summit. "In my work, I started to see firsthand the need for more housing in my region. We're working to bring new business to the area, and then we're left facing the question of...now, where are these people going to live? That was the initial inspiration of this whole thing - hosting a regional summit. But the more I talked to my team and, I realized that this is a state-wide conversation," said Rope.
"Since the event, we've had very positive responses from the attendees," Rope continues. "The engagement in the room was phenomenal. People were busy taking notes, asking questions, and sharing stories of what struggles they have in their own communities around housing. The next step forward is to continue the conversation. Each community can take what they need from the day and make it their own, using the resources and ideas they learned about at the event. We're working on making all of the content available and accessible for any community organization who wants to dive into it. I also think that as some of these strategies and solutions are tested and implemented around the state, communities have to do a good job of sharing their experiences with others and telling the stories of what's working and what isn't."
"We really wanted to bring people together who are working on creative solutions - from architects to housing experts. Because of our commitment to education and workforce development, there is a direct business correlation between dropout and graduation rates tied to lack of housing. Transiency is a real threat to the health of a future workforce and to communities in general. When a family has to move several times a year, it's a real setback for those children and parents," explained Anne Kaiser, VP of Georgia Power Community and Economic Development.
When asked 'Why Georgia Power?', Rope offered one simple answer. "Our business is to build communities up, to make them stronger. And this is one way we can help."
Thank you to the experts who made this conversation possible:
Sarah Kirsch, Executive Director, Urban Land Institute
Katherine Moore, Vice President of Programs & Director, The Georgia Conservancy's Sustainable Growth
Lisa Gordon, President & CEO, Atlanta Habitat for Humanity, Ecosystem of Housing
Marisa Ghani, Senior Land Use Planner, Atlanta Regional Commission
Greg Worley, Kubota Manufacturing of America, Corporation
Frank Norton, Jr., Developer, The Norton Agency, Cottages on Enota
Bryan Lackey, City Manager, City of Gainesville
Eric Kronberg, Architect & Developer, Kronberg-Wall
Angela Threadgill, Director of Planning & Zoning, City of Decatur, Cottage Court
Monica Callahan, Planning & Development Director, City of Madison
Bruce Tolar, Tolar Anderson Kim, LLC; Cottages & Modular Constructed Homes
Atticus LeBlanc, Founder, PadSplit
Will Johnston, Executive Director, MicoLife Institute
Tyrone Rachal, President, Urban Key Capital Partners
John Anderson, Principal, Tolar Anderson Kim Planning, Financing the Home
Bithia Ratnasamy, Senior Housing Policy Analyst, Georgia Department of Community Affairs
Kim Skobba, Director, Housing & Demographic Research Center at University of Georgia Affairs, Georgia Initiative for Community Housing (GICH)