The good bad and ugly about workforce housing.

The Civil Discussion provided by May and Sanford in the TC April 20, 2022, issue regarding Workforce housing was inciteful and honest.  It is a nationwide issue and one that is becoming more and more difficult.  In a recent Georgia High Country Builders Association membership meeting (made up of builders and industry service and materials providers from Pickens, Gilmer and Fannin counties) I spoke on this issue and called it the 5 L’s of Housing.  Those 5 L’s are Lumber, Labor, Lots, Legislation (aka, regulation) and Loans.  When you add up the impact of each of these L’s it is no mystery why we have no affordable, adequate, available workforce housing. 

Consider what has happened to our USA culture in the past 30 months since we experienced the shut down of our economy, the “sheltering in place” mandates and the consequence of the “peaceful protesters” in our major cities.  For North Georgia it resulted in a migration of urban dwellers wanting out of the big city to avoid both contamination and crime.  Those that made the decision to move out of the city targeted North Georgia as the ideal location, still close to ATL, but a world away from the maddening crowd.  So, if you had a house to sell you were assured of a sale, often at a price much inflated.  Then add to this the occasional demand just to get away.  Many of our fair citizens put that affordable rental into a resort rental status to make three times the money with the result of displacing the worker living there.  This increased the resort rental units about 300 percent.

Back to the 5 L’s.  Building Lots are scarce.  There is plenty of property but the cost to prepare the site to receive a house adds up quickly.  An average lot needs utilities routed to the property, grading done to dig the foundation, driveway cut in, well drilled, septic tank and drain fields, trees removed, foundation poured, etc.  

Construction Labor is in short supply.  With Uncle Sam’s handouts, the incentive to work went away.  Add to this the increased demand for residential construction and now anyone the least bit skilled demanded a higher wage.  So, labor has become scarce and more costly. Trust me, the construction trades are demanding a market rate and getting it. 

Lumber has seen outrageous cost increases.  As much as 300 percent.  With each suggestion it will come down, we have seen one category of material decline in cost and another raise in costs.  The net result has been a materials cost increase of 20 to 50 percent for a basic framing materials package from 2 years ago. 

Legislation…the political hornets’ nest.  One would think that our elected officials would embrace workforce housing.  After all it is much needed so our lower wage earners can live in a decent house or apartment.  This includes the “first responders”, teachers, law enforcement, agricultural workers, food service workers, etc.  Well, it is not happening.  When opportunity to provide affordable apartments or starter housing has surfaced it has been shut down due to zoning restrictions, or a “not in my neighborhood” mentality.  What is needed here is a leader or leaders, that will take a statesman approach to provide for our communities.  We have each seen the reality of the loudest voices getting the most attention, in deference to the community well being.  BTW, remember the community effort to get the Gilmer Arts Playhouse built?  It happened because we came together to get it done.

Lastly Loans.  For a good while this was working in a home buyers favor.  BUT to curb inflation the Feds have raised mortgage rates to slow the economy and reduce inflation.  A great idea if you are buying potatoes…not so much if you wish to buy a house.

So the consequence of the 5 L’s is a growing lack of affordable, adequate, available workforce housing.  This will drive workers out of North Georgia.  This will shut down businesses, reduce our tax base, make community services unaffordable and create stagnation.  Stagnation is the prelude to death.  If you don’t think so look at Lumpkin Georgia, Rome Georgia or Helen Georgia.  If you attended the “Help Gilmer Thrive” Panel Discussion last month you heard 6 industry experts speak to these issues with insight, awareness, and conviction. 

To end on a positive note, this issue can be delt with in a creative and beneficial way.  All it takes is leadership, vision, and money.  

Michael Grant

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