By Chris Clark, President & CEO, Georgia Chamber of Commerce
When it comes to economic growth, Georgia keeps setting records. Last year alone, we saw a whopping $21.2 billion in investments and 51,132 newly created jobs as a result of 358 projects across the state. What’s more—85% of this investment and more than 30,000 jobs came from rural Georgia. Not surprisingly, Georgia was ranked the number one state in the nation in which to do business for an unprecedented 9th year in a row. However, even in the midst of this economic boom, employers across the state continue to experience challenges recruiting and retaining talent in their companies. One of the most pressing concerns for employees and potential recruits in every corner of the state is the lack of attainable and affordable housing options.
Historically, Georgia’s living and housing affordability has driven the state’s population growth. From 1980 to 2020, our state nearly doubled by adding 5.2 million new residents. By 2032, projections indicate Georgia’s population will rise even further to 11.9 million. But while our state has grown in terms of population, the number of new building permits has been steadily declining. This disparity deepens our need for increased housing stock with greater variety to meet increasing consumer demands.
Unfortunately, our state continues to face limited inventory and high prices. For every home for sale in Georgia, there are 65 active buyers—three times more than pre-pandemic levels. Increased costs of building materials and labor shortages have also contributed heavily to the rising costs of new home prices. Compounding these national trends is the reality that in Georgia, burdensome regulations covering the development and construction phases of homebuilding are mired in burdensome regulations that are currently on the books. To make matters worse, these regulations vary from city to city and county to county—creating a piecemeal patchwork which only further serves to drive up costs. These realities disproportionately discriminate against middle income earners, senior citizens, and first-time home buyers who are being priced out of the market every day. Even though home ownership is a proven method for growing wealth and elevating families out of poverty, the result has been that Georgia’s homeownership rate has decreased 7% over the past two decades.
Our state is at a true inflection point. Left unchecked, this problem will negatively impact rural economic development, limit existing industry expansions in our hub communities around the state, and limit relocations to our metro areas. It’s abundantly clear the status quo is not meeting consumer demand or providing enough housing to meet the economic development needs of the state.
Governor Kemp made increasing access to affordable workforce housing a highlight of his State of the State Address to kick off the 2023 legislative session, and included $35.7 million in his administration’s amended fiscal year 2023 budget for a Rural Workforce Housing Fund program—which was signed into law recently. This commitment from our state’s newly elected chief executive shows the importance—and the need—for change.
Additionally, the Georgia House of Representatives’ Study Committee on Regulation, Affordability, and Access to Housing, which met throughout 2022, gathered clear and convincing evidence that legislative action is needed to address the workforce housing crisis. It is essential that solutions to this pressing issue are enacted to invest in communities, create more jobs, and build better, more affordable housing solutions for hardworking Georgians.
Fortunately, legislation has been introduced this year that accomplishes that goal. HB 514 and HB 517 introduced by Representative Dale Washburn seek to cut government red tape, increase access to attainable workforce housing, and empower job creators to meet consumer demand. This vital legislation will focus on basic state standards of safety and quality to ensure a streamlined approach, better serving citizens across the state. Championing free-market, good-government housing reforms like these will allow job creators to do what they do best: innovate, invest in communities, and meet consumer demand – all while providing more places for Georgians to live at prices that allow for long term stability and economic mobility.
In a meaningful first step, HB 514 was passed by the House on a bipartisan vote—and we hope to see HB 517 receive similar consideration by lawmakers before the end of the legislative session.
The numbers and the results in the lives of everyday Georgians are clear: Georgia’s thoughtful, consistent leadership has created unprecedented economic growth. To continue building long-term prosperity for years to come, targeted, pro-growth solutions like HB 514 and HB 517 will allow our current employers to have quality housing for their new and existing workforces, while also supporting strong families and communities along the way.