Why it’s not affordable for everyone to live in Forsyth County

Ben Lacina

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Forsyth County Administration Building(Photo/Forsyth County Website)

(Forsyth County, GA) Rising inflation and costs of living continue to burn holes in American wallets, and basic necessities are becoming less affordable to more people, one of the biggest being housing.

Fair market rent (FMR) is a statistic calculated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine how much rent should be charged for a given property depending on a combination of factors, such as size, property type, and location. It serves as a guideline for landlords on how much they should charge tenants.

But a myriad of other factors like housing shortages and a high demand of renters have contributed to the significant increase in rent prices, and it is most heavily impacting the nation’s lowest income workers.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) defines housing wage as, “an estimate of the hourly wage full-time workers must earn to afford a rental home at fair market rent without spending more than 30% of their incomes.” This is how they determine how much an individual can afford to spend on housing while still affording all other necessities.

The NLIHC found in its Out of Reach 2018 Report that there is no state, metropolitan area, or county in the entire nation where a worker can earn the federal minimum wage, or the higher minimum wage of their state, and afford a two-bedroom home at fair market rent within a standard 40-hour work week.

Of the country’s 3,000+ counties, there are only 22 where a full-time minimum wage worker can even afford a one-bedroom rental home. There are none in Georgia.

The Out of Reach 2021 Report did not show any improvements. Of the 20 most common occupations in the United States, the NLIHC found that, on average, 11 of them make less than the housing wage of $24.90 per hour for a two bedroom rental home and $20.40 per hour for a one-bedroom.

How Does Forsyth County Compare?

The rate to afford a two bedroom rental for a person working 40 hours a week for all 52 weeks of the year is $19.42 per hour for Georgia and $22.79 per hour in Forsyth County.

To afford a one bedroom rental, someone working Georgia’s hourly minimum wage of $7.25 has to work 92 hours every week. This total increases to 110 hours per week for Forsyth County.

This disparity is one of the main focuses of United Way of Forsyth County, a non-profit organization whose vision is, “To be a community where all people have the opportunity to engage, thrive and achieve a better quality of life.”

Ruth Goode, executive director of United Way of Forsyth County, says this issue is nothing new.

In 1991, United Way conducted their first needs assessment for Forsyth County and determined affordable housing was the top priority need. Goode cites several factors that have contributed to Forsyth County’s growth through the past decades, such as the construction of the Buford Dam, Lake Lanier’s growing popularity, and the northward expansion of Highway 400.

“The County’s population has continued to explode to where it is today. So, too has the lack of affordable housing,” Goode said.

But who exactly is this affecting? United Way’s 1991 assessment identified children, the elderly, low-income/working class, poor people, and single parent households as the county’s most at-risk populations.

As costs of living rise, this list encompasses more and more people, specifically, service industry workers, teachers, seniors on fixed incomes, first responders, and veterans, among many others.

Katy Sullens is a Georgian looking to move into Forsyth County, and while splitting three bedroom costs with two roommates is cheaper than a one or two bedroom apartment, finding something affordable has still been a challenge.

“Even with two roommates, most of the apartments cost $800 or more per person,” Sullens said. “You do find the occasional one that is a tad cheaper, but it is still more than what I was hoping to pay.”

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Forsyth County Apartments(Photo/Ruth Goode)

A New Approach

One way to think about the construct of a city is through what is called its livability. Livability is a measure of how well a city integrates the conditions necessary for all of its inhabitants to live a decent life, such as access to housing, transportation, and environmental and employment amenities.

This frame of reference is what Goode says we should and can be using to work toward ensuring an adequate quality of life for all, but not everybody sees this as a realistic solution.

“If you look at the total mix of housing in the county, you’ll see there is a diversity of options available,” said Forsyth County Communications Director Lauren Kane. “We understand the difficulty many families are facing with skyrocketing prices in the current economy, but housing costs are market driven. Our nation is experiencing record high home prices, and Forsyth County is no different as one of the most desirable communities in the state to live.”

But while the lack of affordable housing is a nationwide issue, Goode believes there are measures that can be taken at a local level to help residents of Forsyth County now.

“Residents know what is going on in their own backyard and have little interest in the County as a whole aside from how it directly impacts their lives,” Goode said.

Goode goes on to say, “There are issues related to affordable housing such as land and construction costs, past zonings, and especially strong HOA groups opposing low-cost housing that will continue to keep Forsyth County less affordable into the foreseeable future.”

Although there is plenty of uncertainty in how and when the housing market will return to normalcy, it is certain that rising costs of living will continue to most heavily impact at-risk populations in Forsyth County and across the nation.

If you have a news tip in Forsyth County, contact Ben Lacina at benjaminclacina@gmail.com

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Ben Lacina's writing experience allows him to tackle a myriad of subjects and stories. His background in science helps him use his writing experience to translate complicated topics into understandable content for a wide audience.

Athens, GA
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