Plans call for a mix of shops, offices and homes --including 'affordable' housing - in a 'transit-oriented' development around the Brookhaven MARTA station.
Plans call for a mix of shops, offices and homes –including ‘affordable’ housing – in a ‘transit-oriented’ development around the Brookhaven MARTA station.

While Mercedes Benz USA plans to bring and employ hundreds in Sandy Springs, those employees may not be able to afford to live in the area, and have been scouting locations such as Alpharetta and Crabapple.

“In Sandy Springs we have an abundance of housing for upper income, and an abundance for lower rental income,” said Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul. “We’ve heard from Mercedes families that they can’t afford to live in Sandy Springs.”

Paul said that points to a larger problem for the city and its workers overall, and that the lack of affordable workforce housing contributes to traffic congestion.

“What’s missing is owner-occupied housing in Sandy Springs that police, firefighters, teachers, nurses and medical personal can afford to live in,” he said. “This is a major issue; our congestion issues are built around the fact that an overwhelming number of people who work here live elsewhere.

“Our population of 100,000 grows to 200,000 during the day. If we could create an environment where employees could live in Sandy Springs, that would have an enormous impact on traffic congestion.”

A look at Atlanta Regional Commission housing statistics shows Sandy Springs dominating metro-area ZIPs for three-year average home prices from 2012 to 2014. In the 30327 ZIP Code area, which includes Sandy Springs, the average home price was $691,467. In the 30342 area, it was $401, 971.

ARC’s Executive Director Doug Hooker echoed the need for affordable housing during a recent Perimeter Business Alliance luncheon. He said that areas like Sandy Springs, Brookhaven and Dunwoody that are striving to become more walkable and mixed use friendly need to have folks who work in the communities living there, as as well.

“Our charge is, How do we get more affordable housing in those communities, so the retail workers that work at Perimeter can afford to live close?” he said.

Paul said that while there’s no firm plan in Sandy Springs yet, he and other members of the council are exploring solutions. “Part of it is how we work with developers,” he said. “What kind of incentives can we offer to get them to sell at lower price points.” He explained that the problem can be complex because the goal to not drive down real estate also exists.

Hooker pointed to MARTA’s transit-oriented development program as another solution. The transit agency is looking at created mixed-use developments around its stations, and is requiring that 20 percent of the residential units on a property qualify as workforce/affordable housing.

A study for development at the Brookhaven MARTA station said the 2013 median income for the Atlanta region is $66,300, which allows a family of four with a $53,000 income per year to qualify for workforce housing. The study claimed that income was comparable to the average starting salary of a Brookhaven police officer.

Jack Honderd, a member of the Brookhaven Peachtree Community Alliance, a group whose goal is to guide development, said that striving toward more workforce housing is going to be a challenge in Brookhaven, where apartments and small houses are being torn down to make way for high-end rental units and larger homes.

He said a variety of housing “creates vibrant, stable neighborhoods,” and that the community benefits when, for example, its police are living in its neighborhoods.

Paul added, “Not only is [providing affordable housing] a matter of doing what I think is the right thing, it makes sure folks who work here can live here.”

–Ann Marie Quill