This Committee's "Story" continues to evolve. Through a year of community work, this committee has identified barriers to prosperity, created recommendations to address these barriers, and submitted their recommendations to the PPA Steering Committee. The committee will continue its work as the final recommendations and strategy for implementation are developed.
These recommendations reflect the critical role of affordable housing and reliable transportation in breaking the cycle of poverty in Athens-Clarke County. Most obviously, reliable transportation is necessary for holding a steady job, and home ownership is how most Americans build equity that they can pass on to their children. Many Athenians living in or near poverty do not have access to either of these tools for moving out of poverty.
ACC is designated as a "housing stress" county, meaning that over 30% of households are either cost-burdened, overcrowded, or lack complete plumbing or kitchen facilities. Many forces have combined to create this problem, among them historical lending practices that were blatantly discriminatory and land use planning that has not sufficiently taken housing affordability into account. There has been insufficient coordination among housing service providers, and over-reliance on ever-shrinking federal funds. Rising property values, increasing numbers of relatively affluent students in the housing market, and housing-related regulations (or in some cases, their lack) also contribute.
This lack of affordable rental and homeownership opportunities has meant that many families move constantly, do not build equity, and have difficulty building safe, stable communities. Furthermore, as property near the University of Georgia becomes ever more desirable, lower cost housing is pushed further away from central ACC, away from jobs, services and access to public transportation.
Access to public transportation is important because the cost of owning and maintaining an automobile can eat up a large percentage of a family's income. But even for those who can use Athens Transit, its limited schedule and routes -- a function of its inadequate funding -- make it difficult to get to jobs, schools, and other services, many of which are located beyond its reach.
Furthermore, certain groups have particular housing and transportation needs that require specialized solutions. These groups include people with disabilities, seniors, homeless people, recent immigrants, and formerly incarcerated people.
This committee calls for the development of a comprehensive strategy to address the full spectrum of housing needs in our community. Attention must be given to retaining and building affordable rental housing as well as homeownership opportunities. We must develop mixed-income neighborhoods and stabilize existing tight-knit low-income communities. Different models of homeownership, like the community land trust model and resident-controlled mobile home parks -- solutions that have come from people directly affected by these issues must be considered and "Not-In-My-Back-Yard" attitudes must be addressed.
Furthermore, because of the regional nature of our economy, we need a regional and truly multi-modal transportation system. We need to expand the mission, services, and funding for ACC's public transportation system, which will require changes to state law; and improve conditions for cyclists and sidewalk users as well.
Finally, ACC must secure dedicated sources of funds to support a comprehensive plan for affordable housing and an effective regional transportation system. Without sustainable funding, housing and transportation will continue to be barriers to breaking the cycle of poverty for many Athenians.