ATLANTA - A shortage of affordable housing is hampering efforts to bring much needed jobs to rural Georgia, according to a study released Tuesday.
Researchers at the University of Georgia found inadequate supplies of rental properties and single-family starter homes for sale in the first comprehensive look at housing within reach of middle-class families outside metro Atlanta.
"There's more to economic development than creating jobs," said Doug Bachtel, a demographer at the University of Georgia and a co-author of the study. "If you don't have housing ... job opportunities you create can be taken by someone from outside your community."
The study was conducted by the university's Housing and Demographics Research Center at the request of the Georgia Rural Development Council, formed by Gov. Roy Barnes to spur economic growth in rural parts of the state.
Among its chief findings:
Nineteen percent of Georgians from outside the Atlanta area work in retail or agriculture, earning on the average less than the $8.35 per hour needed to pay fair-market rent.
More than 1 million Georgia households have incomes that allow them to afford a home costing no more than $86,800, which translates to 55 percent of the average sale price of a new home in the state.
Eighty-six percent of employees surveyed were unaware of existing programs for low-income and first-time home buyers.
Max Lockwood, the president of the U.S. 441 Council, an economic development group that promotes the primarily rural highway corridor, said the housing shortfall has grown worse during the past five years. Homes that once cost $60,000 to $80,000 have risen to between $80,000 and $130,000, he said.
"A lot of our middle-income people are having trouble finding a house that fits their income," Mr. Lockwood said.
Dr. Bachtel said the low profit margins that affordable homes typically yield to builders and developers also drive the short housing supply.
The study recommends that the state offer incentives encouraging developers to build new rental and owner-occupied housing and to renovate existing stock.
Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, the development council's chairman, conceded that the current economic downturn has left the state short of funds for such new programs. But he said it wouldn't cost much to raise awareness, another of the study's suggestions.
"Right now, our major task is simply an information-sharing focus," Mr. Taylor said. "We've got to find a way to get local leaders excited about pursuing housing as an economic development program."
Mr. Taylor said that even in a time of cost cutting, the state should be able to afford opening an office of housing at the University of Georgia to look for solutions.
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