An Analysis of Workforce Housing in Rural Georgia

Article excerpt

Georgia is one of the fastest growing states in the nation. Between 1990 and 2000, Georgia added 1.7 million people, about 60 percent of whom moved from outside the state (Housing and Demographics Research Center, 2001). Most of the population growth has occurred in and around metropolitan Atlanta, the north Georgia mountains and the Georgia coast. Southern Georgia counties with diversified economies grew, but at a slower rate (Housing and Demographics Research Center, 2001). The influx of new residents increased the demand housing in many nonmetropolitan communities that have a shortage of decent and affordable housing. This research project focuses on the current housing situation and desires of low- to moderate-income workers in nonmetropolitan Georgia.

Literature Review

House prices have continued to increase across the nation, while wages have not kept pace. This is especially true in rural communities where wages tend to be lower. In 2004, the median per-capita income in urban Georgia was $31,534 and only $22,497 in rural communities of Georgia (U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, 2007). Nationwide, close to one-quarter of rural households pay more than 30 percent of their monthly income for housing costs (Housing Assistance Council, 2006). These households are considered "cost-burdened."

Studies have been undertaken to gain a better understanding of the impact of housing costs on working families. In a study conducted by the Center for Housing Policy, wage rates for "traditional occupations," including firefighters, police officers and elementary school teachers were used to evaluate housing costs for working families (Lipman, 2004). The findings showed affordability gaps existed in both rental and homeownership markets across the nation. A 2001 study of workforce housing in Georgia had similar findings, showing a shortage of housing for families earning between minimum wage and $60,000 (Housing and Demographics Research Center, 2001).

In 2000, close to 30 percent of the counties in Georgia were classified as housing stress counties, and slightly over one-half (57 percent) of these were nonmetropolitan counties (Tinsley, 2005, January). Housing stress is an indication that 30 percent or more of the households in that county experienced at least one of the following housing conditions in 2000: lack of complete plumbing, incomplete kitchen, house or rent payment of 30 percent of gross income, or more than one person per room (U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, 2004, August). The housing stress measure does not account for the condition of the housing and includes households that consciously choose to take on high housing expenditures.

Historically, housing units in the South are more likely to be substandard or have defects than housing in other regions (Lazere, 1989; Morris, 1982). This remains an issue of concern in many nonmetropolitan Georgia communities. A survey of poultry processing plant applicants in Moultrie, Georgia, indicated that about 25 percent were unhappy with the condition of their housing (Tinsley and Rodgers, 2006, May). The quality of housing issue in Georgia is amplified by the aging housing stock and almost nonexistent housing construction in close to one-half of the counties in Georgia (Housing and Demographics Research Center, 2001).

Data and Analysis

This research project focuses on Colquitt County, Georgia. This small southwest Georgia County has a population of 43,915. Moultrie, with a population of 14,387, is the largest town in Colquitt County. The area is representative of the changing demographics and economics of many rural southern communities. The population of Colquitt County grew by close to 15 percent between 1990 and 2000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). In the 2000 Census, persons of Hispanic origin accounted for 11 percent of the population in Colquitt County, whereas they accounted for only 5. …