Georgia, long the nation’s leader in the number of bank failures, is now the epicenter of its foreclosure crisis as well.
According to the latest numbers from RealtyTrak, one in every 300 housing units in the state is going through foreclosure, more than double the national average of one in every 639 housing units.
“Georgia’s foreclosure rate leapfrogged the foreclosure rates in Arizona, Florida, California and Nevada,” RealtyTrak reports, jumping 33 percent in May over April to become the nation’s highest.
That ought to be compelling evidence that the housing market in this state has been permanently altered. The previous growth model of suburban and ex-urban development — cheap open land served by long highways converted to large-lot housing — is over and is not coming back. But I don’t see that realization informing much of our public debate over transportation planning, zoning and related issues.
A look at the county-by-county foreclosure rates (see interactive map below) drives home the enormity of that change. Metro Atlanta’s inner-core counties have certainly been hit hard by foreclosures. In Fulton, one in 272 housing units was in foreclosure in May; in DeKalb it was even worse, with one in 234 units under foreclosure. In Cobb, it was one in 337, better than the Georgia average but twice as bad as the national average.
As high as those rates might seem, however, they pale in comparison to foreclosure rates in the metro region’s outer ring of counties, many of them with reputations as prosperous communities:
Cherokee County: One in 225 units.
Rockdale County: One in 179 units.
Douglas County: One in 122 units.
Henry County: One in 157 units.
Walton County: One in 143 units.
Those numbers lend credence to a presentation earlier this month by Chris Nelson, a former professor at Georgia Tech who now heads the Metropolitan Research Center at the University of Utah. Speaking to the Atlanta Regional Housing Forum, Nelson argued that changing demographics, economics and consumer preferences are driving dramatic change in how and where Americans choose to live.
For example, the percentage of American households with children present has fallen from 45 percent in 1970 to 33 percent in 2010. Twenty-seven percent of households in the 2010 census comprised a single person, compared to just 18 percent in 1970.
And as the Baby Boom edges into retirement, they’re looking to unload the larger homes in which they raised their families — The Great Senior Sell-Off, Nelson calls it — in favor of smaller units that are easier to maintain and that are closer to stores, restaurants, medical care and other amenities.
With fewer child-bearing households coming behind the Baby Boomers to fill abandoned McMansions, the result will be a glut of larger homes and a shortage of multi-unit rental housing. That’s particularly true of metro Atlanta, which is experiencing a doubling of its older adult population between 2000 and 2015, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.
(Interestingly, senior populations have already doubled or close to doubled in counties such as Rockdale, Henry, Douglas and Walton, which are also among those now being hit hardest by foreclosures.)
In addition, people at the younger end of the demographic scale — perhaps driven by a generational compulsion for connection — are also demonstrating a preference for smaller homes in more compact communities, with work, entertainment and shopping in reach of a walk or short drive.
We’d be foolish to ignore such trends by continuing to build communities and transportation systems to serve who and what we used to be. We should design them to serve who and what we’re going to be.
– Jay Bookman