Overcoming the affordable housing funding challenge - SaportaReport

Overcoming the affordable housing funding challenge

By Guest Columnist MIKE DOBBINS, a professor of the practice of planning at Georgia Tech’s College of Design and and a longtime advocate for housing affordability

The city is making constructive strides toward addressing its ever-growing affordable housing needs. Researchers are pretty much in agreement that a stable, safe, and affordable home provides the fundamental and essential grounding for families to make their way into better education, improved health, higher incomes, and a quality of life that holds out hope.

Mike Dobbins

The recent city elections highlighted the urgency for housing fairness, with the candidates mostly all pledging to do something about it. There seems to be a will for searching a way out of Atlanta’s greatest shame, its persistent poverty, dearth of hope, and widening wealth gap.

Recent moves by the Atlanta City Council, led by Councilmember Andre Dickens, beyond ongoing programs, mark the significant shift in priorities, and one hopes that momentum continues:

Requiring residential developments relying on municipal bond finance rates to include a percentage of affordable units; Amending the Beltline overlay district zone to require “inclusionary zoning,” that is, between 10 percent and 15 percent of new residential units in a development must be provided for families classified as eligible based on income – hopefully that new zoning provision will extend to the whole city; Reactivating a $40 million housing opportunity bond fund launched in the Shirley Franklin administration in support of producing affordable units – hopefully that amount will expand, with the discussion below suggesting a way how; Amending the R5 zoning district to allow garage conversions or accessory dwelling units (ADU), that is, small houses on the same lot as the primary house, to provide for more affordable options as well as a means to support the principal owner’s mortgage and other payments; Located along the Atlanta BeltLine near Fourth Ward Park, the Flats at Ponce City Market has one bedroom, one bath apartments priced at from $1,804 to $2,615 a month. Credit: flats@pcm.com Invest Atlanta, in addition to amping up its use of bond financing in support of affordability, has been purchasing land in areas under threat of gentrification and displacement; The Atlanta Housing Authority, with a new city administration, should be able to use its land holdings and considerable cash resources to step forward in building and leveraging affordability; The City for All Housing Coalition and the TransFormation Alliance, born out of the Regional Housing Forum and the Equitable Transit Oriented Development task force, have been working hard to educate and lobby hard in support of new Mayor Lance Bottom’s pledge of putting $1 billion to invest toward the vision; And the Atlanta BeltLine now seems to be taking its mandate seriously to produce 5,600 affordable units by 2030, acknowledging that it’s about 4,600 units short, now half way through its funding life.

Read on to understand the BeltLIne’s opportunity to begin to meet its goal.

The BeltLine’s prospects for being able to step up face two major hurdles: Land cost and money.

First, the hot market, partly caused by the BeltLine’s own relentless hype, drives up land costs and taxes, the rise of which is the BeltLine’s life blood through its BeltLine Tax Allocation District. The conflict of interest for the BeltLine is obvious: How can an agency that funds itself by pumping up property values and taxes deliver land at below market rates?

Second, the money, where could it come from? As it happens, by rearranging its priorities the Beltline could dedicate much more of its considerable resources toward achieving its goal. But this isn’t easy and would take two major moves, one related to its revenue stream and the other related to its streetcar priority.

The planned routes for the transit system associated with the Atlanta BeltLine are drawn to scale within the boundaries of the City of Atlanta. Credit: Mike Dobbins

On the first, the Atlanta BeltLine board and its boosters who do support the affordable housing imperative need to consider the negative impact on housing affordability caused by the agency’s TAD revenue stream. The shifts necessary to do this would call on the BeltLine to damp down its relentless, albeit brilliant, hype that portrays itself almost as an alternate city within the city. This picture, in fact, has contributed to the speculation that boosts property values.

Concurrent with muting its trumpets, the BeltLine might need to accept a more modest or more protracted flow of its tax revenue. For example, is it good, really, for the affected neighborhoods and the city to support the BeltLine’s disruptive drive to produce hyper densities next to settled single-family neighborhoods? Its activities have been shown to accelerate property and tax values with predictable, usually unwanted, and unnecessary neighborhood displacement impacts.

At the same time, should not the BeltLine redirect a major portion of its revenues toward acquiring properties as quickly and as deftly as it can, a tactic that Invest Atlanta has been utilizing for some time now in Westside neighborhoods? The result would allow the BeltLine to sell or gift land to affordable housing developers at rates where the affordability mandate could be met and hopefully strengthened.

And about the money, if the BeltLine were to redirect resources it has currently committed to streetcars, it could make a big dent in its obstacles to meeting its affordable housing mandate. The following lays out the case for such a transformation in purpose.

Overall, to date the BeltLine has expended about $600 million, most of it on the East side and most of it on real estate, parks, trails, and other amenities for the ever hotter East side that emerged after the 1996 Summer Olympic Games and fired up as the BeltLine came along 10 years later.

According to its websites, the BeltLine originally anticipated generating about $3 billion in TAD revenues over the 25-year life of the program, about half over by now. Partly due to the impact of the Great Recession, that projection was cut in 2014 to about $1.5 billion. The overall cost of the program, including affordable housing, parks and trails, and transit is estimated at $4.8 billion, thus a funding gap of about $3.3 billion.

Policy leaders of the Atlanta BeltLine can choose between continuing with an aging plan to built a transit loop along the BeltLine corridor, or reallocating those planned transit funds to provide housing that’s affordable to folks earning the salary of school teachers. Credit: Mike Dobbins

The status of the BeltLine’s streetcar program further casts doubt on its viability. The great bulk of the BeltLine’s program cost was slated for building a two-track streetcar system, originally for the 22-mile loop that goes around, but not to, the city’s major concentrations of destinations. The BeltLine completed a Tier One environmental impact statement for that concept seven years ago, with the requirement to complete a Tier Two EIS, the schedule for which seems to be in limbo or may have been abandoned.

Beginning in about 2010, after significant investment in the loop idea, the BeltLine began to listen to those who had tried for years to point out that a transit system needs to get people to where they need to go. Absorbing that wisdom, the BeltLine conducted a whole new study, completed and adopted by the city council in 2015, that called for a 50-mile, two-track streetcar system, termed the Atlanta Streetcar System Plan (SSP). Touted as Atlanta’s plan for transit, however, it does not begin to serve the city as a whole. (see map that locates the scope of this plan in the context of the city boundaries)

The current priorities for the SSP call for about 16 miles of streetcar, grouped into four subsets: Eastside, Westside, Midtown and Downtown. Unlike the loop, this concept actually might allow some people to get from their origins to their destinations. The required environmental review for each of the four groups is underway, with end dates uncertain.

Current rules of thumb for the cost of urban streetcar systems run at about $100 million per mile. Using the rule of thumb cost estimate, the 16-mile phases would require about $1.6 billion, with the whole package costing about $5 billion. The BeltLine has been reluctant, or at least coy, about dealing with what the streetcar system might cost and how it might be funded since its $1.4 billion budget doesn’t come close to meeting its funding needs.

Much of the housing along the Atlanta BeltLine is anything but affordable. Tax values on these homes, located at Irwin Place, near the Krog Street Market, rose by 63 percent to $624,200 before prices were adjusted in 2017 by Fulton County tax officials. File/Credit: David Pendered

It is noteworthy that the streetcar has been unquestioned given from the very beginning. The BeltLine has given no consideration for a truly multimodal, citywide transit system, which now MARTA and hopefully the city’s new transportation plan should address. Any future planning must take into account the impacts of major shifts in travel technologies and behaviors, now well underway. And these studies should certainly review the viability, feasibility, desirability, serviceability, and capital and operating costs of the BeltLine’s clinging to streetcars as the city’s only transit option. The need for these studies is daily underscored by development investment and settlement patterns that overwhelmingly favor Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead, and increasingly the East side and airport areas, where transit needs are and will be highest.

Indeed, it has been reported that MARTA is planning a big boost in service to the high intensity corridor from its Arts Center Station through Midtown and Downtown to the Turner Field redevelopment area and the long under-served neighborhoods nearby. Reflecting basic transit planning principles and commonsense, MARTA will build a bus rapid transit (BRT) system that is certain to generate high ridership, provide real travel options, and reduce auto congestion. Its cost will be about $5 million per mile, or 1/20th of what a streetcar would cost.

The point of this discussion is to challenge whether hewing to its ever-dimming prospects for actually building and somehow operating streetcars is the best use of BeltLine resources. Instead, perhaps it’s time for the BeltLine and the rest of us to get real about the streetcar component of its program and redirect real money to meeting the real housing needs of thousands of Atlanta families.

If, for example, over its 12 remaining years the BeltLine were to commit just half of that $1.6 billion first phase streetcar program cost to housing, again using conventional rules of thumb to make rough approximations, the funds could build about 4,600 units, thus meeting at least one of the BeltLine’s stated goals. It could then join wholeheartedly into the challenge of housing all of Atlanta’s people and particularly those with limited means. Worthy of a celebration!

Note to readers: Mike Dobbins’ work at Georgia Tech focuses on urban design and planning. Dobbins previously served as Atlanta’s commissioner of the Department of Planning, Development, and Neighborhood Conservation.

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Atlanta home sales dropping, price rising

The lack of homes for sale has tilted the market. At least in attractive areas, those who are selling homes often have a number of buyers bidding. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

The metro Atlanta real estate market continues to spiral in two directions at once: prices headed skyward, the number of homes for sale looping downward.

Last month, the median sales price of a home in the region was $217,000 – up a solid 8.6 percent from January a year ago, an increase slightly stronger than the national price bump during the same period, according to Re/Max of Georgia.

That continued a six-year trajectory from the rock-bottom prices ushered in by the housing crash and the recession that followed.

But, while the prices have kept rising, sales overall have been sluggish and even started to lag. The number of homes sold in the 11-county region during January – 5,039 – was down 1 percent from a year ago, Re/Max said.

VIDEO: Other coverage on home sales

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The number of sales was down in all five core counties – Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Fulton.

And that is largely because of an anemic inventory – or, the number of homes listed for sale. Supply has fallen short of the demand and is continuing to drop, meaning the market is tilted toward sellers. Some might even find buyers bidding for their homes.

Typically, when the mercury drops, the housing market too is a bit chillier. The number of homes for sale generally slides between December and January, and it did drop — 30 percent last month.

But even compared with January of a year ago, the number of listings has dipped.flagged.

Experts say that in a healthy, balanced market, the number of homes for sale represents about six or seven months of sales. For example, in a month when 5,000 homes were sold, a healthy market calls for listings of 30,000 to 35,000 homes for sale.

A year ago, that supply had fallen to a very weak, very seller-friendly 3.3 months. Last month, it fell to just 2.3 months.

With demand expected to crest in spring and early summer, a shortage of homes for sale is not good news, said John Rainey, vice president of Re/Max Georgia. “Low inventory continues to be a strain on our local marketplace and the historically busy spring selling season is right around the corner.”

In the core counties of metro Atlanta, the median price of a home was highest in Fulton County: $307,500, which was up a frenetic 18 percent from the same month of 2017. It was lowest in Clayton, where the median of $124,500 was virtually unchanged from a year ago.


AJC Business reporter Michael E. Kanell keeps you updated on the latest news about jobs, housing and consumer issues in metro Atlanta and beyond. You’ll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

Never miss a minute of what’s happening in local business news. Subscribe to myAJC.com.

Number of home sales, compared to a year ago

Clayton, down 18 percent

DeKalb, down 16 percent

Gwinnett, down 7 percent

Cobb, down 5 percent

Fulton, down 2 percent

Source: Re/Max of Georgia

Median sales price of homes

Fulton, $307,500

Cobb, $265,000

DeKalb, $235,000

Gwinnett, $230,000

Clayton, $124,500

Source: Re/Max of Georgia

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Atlanta construction sector upbeat, survey says

Construction workers early this year working on the Northside Drive Pedestrian Bridge that will connect Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the Vine City MARTA station. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

It’s an upbeat time for the metro Atlanta construction industry, according to a survey of local companies.

Revenues and profits have been rising and the biggest problem for the sector has been finding and hiring the right workers, said Tom Jollay, co-leader for the construction practice at Bennett Thrasher, an Atlanta-based accounting and consulting firm which conducted the survey with the Kennesaw State University College of Construction Management.

More than half of all construction companies saw an increase in profit markets and more than three-quarters saw revenues rise, he said.

“The construction industry is still strong,” he said. “The backlog – work that has been bid for and won but that hasn’t started yet – is very strong and that is a good sign.”

Georgia has 9,600 privately-held construction companies, most of them in metro Atlanta.

The sector was decimated in the aftermath of the housing bubble’s burst and the vicious recession that followed: More than 40 percent of the construction jobs in metro Atlanta vanished, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Since then, the industry has made a robust recovery – with building of commercial and residential projects, as well as huge sports stadiums for the Falcons and the Braves.

+ Construction workers move glass into place on the new corporate headquarters for NCR last summer. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM.

Even with the completion of those mega-structures, demand for new construction has been steady.

Employment in the sector has jumped 48 percent since hitting bottom after the downturn, according to the BLS – and now many companies – more than 83 percent of respondents – say it is hard to find the employees they need.

“A lot of [workers] left during the downturn, and it’s been a struggle to get them to come back,” Jollay said.

Moreover, baby boomers account for an outsized portion of the construction workforce, he said. “Everybody’s dealing with the baby boomers retiring and they are not necessarily getting replaced by younger people.”

The worker shortage hasn’t been enough to chill expansion or shut down companies, but it is a challenge, Jollay said.

Some companies are boosting pay or bonuses. Some are choosing their work more carefully. And newly minted workers can find jobs, Jollay said: graduates of the Kennesaw State program now receive two or three job offers.

The average pay of employees is up 5.2 percent in the past year.

Estimated average pay, various construction jobs:

President, CEO: $189,754.

Chief financial officer: $118,489.

Controller: $92,488.

Project manager: $81,042.

Sales manager: $90,571.

Foreman: $53,017.

Welder: $37,708

Bricklayer: $49,459,

Pipefitter: $46,384

Sources: Bennett Thrasher, Kennesaw State University School of Construction Management, Salary.com

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Atlanta Hawks Transfer Andrew White III from Erie to Atlanta

ATLANTA, GA – The Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club has transferred forward Andrew White III from the team’s G League affiliate, the Erie BayHawks, to Atlanta, it was announced today. White III is on a two-way contract.

In 10 games with the BayHawks, he’s averaging 15.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in 26.2 minutes (.465 FG%, .393 3FG%, .778 FT%). White III, who started this season with the Maine Red Claws, has appeared in 34 G League games this season (21 starts), and has averaged 15.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 31.7 minutes (.444 FG%, .398 3FG%, .831 FT%).

He was signed to a two-way contract by the Hawks on January 15, 2018.

NBA G League Stories from February 11, 2018

The opinions expressed in this release are those of the organization issuing it, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.

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Valentine’s Day 2018: 7 Great Date Ideas In Atlanta

ATLANTA, GA — There’s nothing wrong with dinner and a movie. But, with Valentine’s Day only a few days away, you may be racking your brain for ideas for a special date to observe the day.

Fortunately, there are plenty of great options in Atlanta. If you’re willing to think outside the box just a little bit, you can make it a date at a lot of really cool spots around town. Whether it’s flowers, awesome architecture or just a few hours of relaxation you’re after, Atlanta has got you covered.

Here are seven of our favorite spots in Atlanta to enjoy an out-of-the-ordinary date. Do you know of other spots in and around Atlanta that would make for great Valentine’s Day dates? Let us know in the comments or on social media.

(And, hey … you’ve got to eat some time, right? We’ve got you covered. Check out our list of the 10 Most Romantic Restaurants In Atlanta, too.)

Atlanta Botanical Garden
1345 Piedmont Ave.


We’ve all had enough of winter’s bleak and barren gray. Visit the Atlanta spot that stays lush and colorful all year long with your special someone. A go-to Atlanta spot since 1976, the 30-acre garden next to Piedmont Park currently is showcasing orchids in its annual “Orchid Daze”display — the largest orchid exhibit in the United States which, also, is conveniently in a tropically warm climate. Photo courtesy Atlanta Botanical Garden

There’s a reason The Swan House has been used in movies such as “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” Built in 1928 at the tail end of the Jazz Age, it was designed for entertaining by Edward and Emily Inman — he the heir to the richest man in Georgia, she a suffragist and society player who ran the household after Edward’s death at age 49. Take a tour, meet re-enactors portraying the Inmans and other household staff and imagine what life was like in a different time. Photo courtesy Atlanta History Center

Ponce City Market
675 Ponce De Leon Ave.

Housed in the historic Sears, Roebuck & Co. building, Ponce City Market has become a popular fixture in the Old Fourth Ward since opening in 2014. Few places in town let you have a meal, grab a drink, get some shopping in and enjoy the scene, all in one spot, so well. Head up to Skyline Park on the roof and you’ve got all the fun you can handle. Photo courtesy Ponce City Market

Seriously … it doesn’t matter what show you go to see — whether it’s a rock concert, a musical or a film. Just getting inside and enjoying the Fox is entertainment in and of itself. Originally conceived as a Shriner’s hall, the Fox was built in 1929 with soaring domes, minarets, sweeping archways, rich textiles and trompe l’oeil art — a technique designed to create optical illusions. It instead became a “movie palace” and its history in the decades since is a one-of-a-kind Atlanta story. You can’t go wrong with an evening at the Fox. Photo courtesy The Fox Theatre

A nonprofit comedy theater, Dad’s Garage is another great Old Fourth Ward sport where you can go enjoy an evening of laughs with your beloved. But why not step things up a notch? Sign up for one of the theater’s improv classes and the two of you can create the laughs yourselves. Photo courtesy Dad’s Garage Theatre

Starlight Drive-In
2000 Moreland Ave. SE

Seriously … in 2018, how many chances are you going to have to go to an old-fashioned drive-in movie? We’re lucky enough in Atlanta to be one of the few places you can still do it. Since it opened in 1949, the Starlight has been letting Atlantans catch a double-feature (for the price of one ticket) in the great outdoors. Whether you spend the whole movie in the front seat is up to the two of you — we’re not here to judge. Photo courtesy Starlight Drive-In Theatre

Atlanta Movie Tours
327 Nelson St. SW

By now, we all know that Georgia is a hotbed for movie and TV production. So why don’t the two of you take a tour to see where some of your favorites were filmed? Whether it’s the “Big Zombie Tour” visiting locations from “The Walking Dead,” a “Gone With The Wind” tour or an overview of everything from the Avengers to The Hunger Games to “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” you and your baby will find something to enjoy.

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First Look: Parkway 400 project project reflects a changing Alpharetta (Renderings) – Atlanta Business Chronicle

For more than two decades, the formula for a suburban Atlanta office park seemed to work: develop mid-rise buildings along Georgia 400, with a short drive to the mall, the CEO’s house, and a golf course.

Now, projects such as Avalon in Alpharetta, have proven a new model, with upscale apartments, and the right mix of stores and restaurants next to the office buildings, can achieve rents as high as some urban markets.

Greenstone Properties, which is pitching a project at Georgia 400 and Old Milton Parkway, has taken notice.

For example, it wants to reduce the amount of office space currently entitled for its project Parkway 400, from 630,000 square feet to 450,000 square feet. The office space would connect to retail and restaurants.

Other changes include the addition of 325 apartments and a central pedestrian plaza where people can catch a concert after work.

“In today’s market, successful office developments require a mixed-use environment with walkable amenities,” according to an application for the Parkway 400 project. “Avalon is a perfect example of the success of mixing residential, office and retail.”

Parkway 400 would cover almost 17 acres across from Avalon at Old Milton, Ga. 400, Amber Park Drive and Northwinds Parkway.

To develop the project, Greenstone Properties is seeking an amendment to Alpharetta’s comprehensive land use plan, several variances and a conditional use permit to build apartments.

Greenstone is set to go before Alpharetta planners March 1.

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Utopic Wellness Communities Are A Multibillion-Dollar Real Estate Trend

Thirty minutes from the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport lies a countryside oasis that resembles a fancier, modern-day version of Little House on the Prairie.

Imagine 40,000 acres of forest surrounding newly built Craftsman and Victorian homes–each with sweeping Southern-style wraparound porches sprinkled with lemonade-sipping residents, old and young. Behind each house lie “alleyways” of forest trails–there, athleisure-clad grandmas go on runs while clusters of unaccompanied kids forage for secret treehouses strewn throughout the landscape. Nestled behind a communal organic farm, pigs and chickens roam free beneath pine trees. At the local inn, the concierge offers free bunnies at check-in.

There are few cars on the premises; most residents prefer to walk to the local yoga class or hike the neighborhood’s 15 miles of trails. Young couples amuse themselves at a field-size labyrinth composed of rocks, just beyond the wildflower meadow. The loudest sound is of the breeze brushing up against the oak trees that hover over the lawns. This landscape feels to me like a physical manifestation of the Sabbath.

Welcome to Serenbe, one of the more well-known “wellness communities,” planned homes and neighborhoods designed to support residents’ physical, emotional, and sometimes even spiritual well-being.

[Photo: courtesy of Serenbe]

Here, design is as fully integrated into the landscape as nature. Serenbe dictates each home be built in exact accordance to its style (i.e., no mixing your Colonial with your Tudor). A strict “no McMansion” rule means houses are tastefully built, with nary a Roman column or gilded arch to be seen.

There are no driveways. Residents are not allowed to park their cars in front of their homes. And you won’t spot a garbage can or utility wires on these streets; such unseemly items are cleverly hidden a level underground. You’ll spot residents “taking out the trash” by lifting up discreet manhole covers beside their houses.

“I hate visual pollution,” declares Serenbe founder Steve Nygren.

The Nygren family [Photo: courtesy of Serenbe]

It’s like Disneyland released a Pleasantville attraction, or a modern day kibbutz for health enthusiasts. It’s fitting that the community’s name is Serenbe, a combination of the words “serene” and “being.”

Serenbe started with just one family in 2004. Nygren, a retired restaurateur on a mission to save Atlanta forestland from bulldozers, brought his family to the land as its first denizens. Today, his idyllic nature reserve encompasses 300 homes and 600 residents, along with a 25-acre organic farm, three restaurants, a farmer’s market, hotel, spa, bookstore, and a progressive playhouse recognized by the New York Times.

Wellness communities like Serenbe increasingly attract homeowners looking for a refuge from modern life. In North America alone, the market is worth $52.5 billion and is growing by 6.4% annually, according to a new report by the Global Wellness Institute titled Build Well to Live Well: Wellness Lifestyle Real Estate and Communities. Wellness real estate was a $134 billion worldwide industry in 2017, and is expected to grow to $180 billion in 2022.

“There’s a health benefit coming out of almost every [Serenbe] household,” claims Nygren of the anecdotal evidence, “whether it’s the kids don’t have asthma and have less allergies, or people have gotten rid of their antidepressants . . . We’re having [families] and retirees move here even just because of the air quality.”

Serenbe Treehouse Playground [Photo: courtesy of Serenbe]
Life Camp

Nygren, 71, is a slight, fit man bursting with an energy rivaling that of a cruise ship director. On a sunny October day, the Serenbe founder guides a group of visitors on a five-hour walking tour of his creation, pointing out the atypical omega-shaped layout of the four hamlets, each focused a different sector: arts, agriculture, health, and education. He thoroughly explains the philosophy behind his various mandates. Each home, for example, must feature an open front porch to facilitate spontaneous conversation with neighbors.

Four hours into the hike, a few of us concede that we are having difficulty keeping up with his pace. Many among us come up with ingenious excuses to rest our legs. Some pretend to tie their shoelaces, others lean against trees or visit a bathroom in an unfinished home or open house.

Nygren, however, seems fine, totally rested. Astounded, I ask him: How does he keep in shape? Does he exercise? Take supplements? The founder laughs and simply responds, “I live.”

Steve Nygren [Photo: courtesy of Serenbe]

And what a life this is. Serenbe is built for walking; numerous nature trails lead to four sub-communities modeled on English countryside hamlets. Blueberry bushes line roads in case residents need a snack along the way. Medicinal landscaping makes it easy for one to pick up a natural remedy should they feel unwell.

Nygren tells the story of a child recently infected with poison ivy. While one community member rushed to fetch a doctor, the patient was treated with an herb from a nearby garden by another neighbor. “For everything in nature, there is a counter,” Nygren calmly explains, adding with smirk, “there is a doctor on hand, but oftentimes that’s secondary.”

Serenbe’s inhabitants are a mix of young families and retirees, including many multigenerational families who appreciate the idea of being able to hop over to grandma and grandpa’s house whenever they like.

“Our residents walk tall,” says Nygren, who says the forced exercise of living on the property physically transforms Serenbe’s denizens.

Children–referred to by local adults as “free-range kids”–independently run all over “town.” Serenbe features all kinds of housing: large houses, condos, even tiny $20,000 homes for an artists-in-residence program.

“We’re much more than the agrarian movement. . . .This is a real town with people of every age,” says Nygren. The dedication to both nature and multi-generational community, he believes, is what truly makes Serenbe a wellness community.

“If you look at all the research coming now about depression . . . there are two things that really improve your attitude–connection to one another and a connection to nature. [Society] has been building places that remove us from both for the last several decades,” he argues.

Indeed, Nygren isn’t overstating the importance of one’s environment. Ophelia Yeung and Katherine Johnston, senior research fellows at the Global Wellness Institute, point to a recent World Health Organization study that found that 80% to 90% of our health outcomes are intimately tied to where and how we live. The report includes a number of various factors, including environmental pollution, air quality, and healthy foods. A recent study by the Urban Land Institute found that 38% of Americans report access to outdoor spaces in their area where they might walk or exercise.

Stone Labryinth [Photo: Rina Raphael]

At society’s current pace, the outlook doesn’t look good: Preventable chronic diseases, which are primarily environmental and behavioral, (i.e., not genetic) are expected to account for almost three-quarters of all deaths worldwide by 2020, reports WHO.

“People feel frustrated with the negative things they feel in their lifestyle,” says Johnston, noting obesity, loneliness, and depression, among other conditions. Many Americans feel isolated despite living in cities or in the suburbs with plenty of people living next door. “Millennials, senior citizens, everybody you know is tech connected but missing face-to-face interaction,” Johnston believes.

At the same time, dedication to healthy living has skyrocketed in upscale sectors: yoga studios are full; markets overflow with organic produce; and meditation apps are now mainstream. So it makes sense those consumers would want easy, convenient access to all their healthy pursuits. And what’s more convenient than your house?

“Because everyone’s so busy, you get demand from people wanting to bring those things closer to home and be able to access them more readily,” says Johnston.

GWI found that people who once opted for planned neighborhoods or leisure golf centers are veering into wellness communities. “This is the beginning of a whole wave,” stresses Yeung. “There’s a big shift going on in the way consumers look at real estate.”

Already, prospective homeowners are willing to pay an average of a 10% to 25% premium for houses within wellness communities. There are, at the moment, roughly 350 wellness community projects in the pipeline in North America alone.

Amrit Residences [Photo: courtesy of Amrit]
A Home For Every Desire

Wellness communities share the same general commitments–to health, to nature, to environmental sustainability–but each boasts a unique taste and model to appeal to different consumer groups. At first glance, many of these areas would not strike you as a “wellness community”–they look nothing like Serenbe. They can be luxury condos on the beach or urban revitalization projects featuring various, huddled apartment buildings with not a single blueberry bush in sight.

There are wellness communities–often located near mountains, lakes, and parklands–devoted to the outdoors and active lifestyles. GWI highlights Shearwater, a new community near Jacksonville, Florida that offers boating, an aquatic center, and even a man-made lazy river. Those who desire a piece of rural living might opt for agrihoods that push a farming life–complete with CSAs and livestock.

Some wellness community projects focus on the arts. Georgia’s Pinewood Forrest connects to Pinewood Atlanta Studios–the largest purpose-built studio complex outside of Hollywood– and targets professionals in the arts, media, and entertainment industries. A few communities center around a biomedical or health organization, such as Destination Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota, which is connected to the Mayo Clinic.

For health enthusiasts who equate wellness with luxury, there are numerous spa-like communities built in partnership with five-star resorts or upscale developers. The Amrit Ocean Resort & Residences in Palm Beach, Florida is a new condo community that integrates technology with Eastern philosophy and practices. Residences start at $700,000.

At Amrit, homes feature posture-supportive heat reflexology floors, mood-enhancing aromatherapy emanating from remote-controlled walls, and vitamin C-infused showers. The building features a meditation garden, relaxation rooms, indoor and outdoor yoga studios, and daily programming focused on gut health, sleep, and nutritional cooking. A “personal wellness assistant” is available 24/7 to remind residents to exercise, meditate, eat well–or tend to any number of emergency wellness needs.

Dilip Barot, founder of Creative Choice Group and Amrit Ocean Resort & Residences, views such amenities as essential to helping modern mankind live a healthy life. “People are looking for a lifestyle,” says Barot, “where they can see balancing themselves.”

The Pearl courtyard [Photo: courtesy of The Pearl]

The Pearl is part of The Blairs District planned community in Silver Spring, Maryland. Amid five interconnected acres of parks, the 14-story resort-like complex tries to create a nature-centered experience in an urban area. It includes a floating two-story wellness center, a yoga and cycling studio, and a juice bar. A demonstration kitchen holds weekly chef tutorials using ingredients from The Pearl’s own CSA garden.

“Buildings are sanctuaries,” says Jeffrey Abramson, partner of Tower Companies, which built both The Blairs and The Pearl. “It’s a place to come home and feel relaxed upon walking through the door. That’s where the quality of sleep comes from, where the quality of relationships come from, and where the quality of the community comes from.”

The Pearl opened half a year ago and is over 55% leased. “We’re getting 20% higher rents than that in the local marketplace,” claims Abramson. “We’re already designing the next Pearl.”

[Photo: courtesy of Serenbe]
Does A Wellness Community Really Improve Your Life?

Blueberry-lined roads and wellness assistants sound swell, but how much value do they really add to one’s overall well-being? How effective are these communities?

It’s a recent phenomenon, so studies on the effects of wellness communities are scarce. GWI’s Johnston says that while several communities and institutes have commissioned scientific studies, “it will take decades to measure” the impact of these housing initiatives on their residents’ well-being.

Still, several findings point to some potential success toward these communities’ collective goals. The Gallup Active Living Study found that residents of places that score highest for “active living environment” (walkability, bikeability, parks) experience significantly lower rates of issues such as smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and depression.

In 2014, Texas A&M University conducted a study on a wellness community called Mueller in Austin, Texas. It assessed 229 residents’ levels of activity before and after moving to the neighborhood. The research team concluded that Mueller’s design “led not only to more walking and biking by its residents, but also to greater social interaction and neighborhood cohesiveness [i.e., community feeling].”

At Serenbe, meanwhile, not a single child has asthma, reports their director of operations, Garnie Nygren. Currently, 130 children live in the community. Meanwhile, 1 in 10 American children have asthma.

Serenbe trail [Photo: courtesy of Serenbe]

Although the results are still inconclusive, consumers increasingly believe wellness real estate might enable them to take control of their health. The GWI report refers to a recent Health and Wellness Lifestyle Survey conducted by American Lives that found that 25% of respondents were very interested in living in a wellness community either full or part time.

“Investors Are Asking Questions”

Oftentimes, tax initiatives or grants can better entice developers to adopt certain practices, like including communal rooms, gardens, or wide staircases in which passerbys could hold a conversation. GWI’s researchers report that developers say efforts to convince the greater financial community to invest remains a challenge. In general, financiers and banks prefer established, already-proven models like banks or golf courses.

“It takes a lot more work,” explains Yeung, “but a lot of investors are asking questions now. There’s interest.”

The GWI report estimates that among the 740 wellness community projects in production, there are an estimated 1.5 million units either already built or planned to be built out over the next several decades, capable of housing more than 4.1 million people. These are not just scenic houses for upper-income individuals and retirees with money to spare, although the majority of the construction tends to sway in that direction. There are 125 apartment and condominium projects, and 90 urban district and mixed-use projects.

In the U.K. and Australia, numerous lower-income communities harness wellness community practices. And New York City’s Center for Active Design, in collaboration with Bloomberg’s City Initiative, made a big push for developers in lower income areas to build with integrated wellness techniques in mind by working with local health commissioners. It’s an example of how public initiatives can affect private investors. GWI also points to Via Verde, a mixed-income community in the South Bronx, New York that incorporates healthy and sustainable features like non-toxic materials to improve indoor air quality, design and aesthetics that encourage walking and stair use, and rooftop community gardens.

At Serenbe, the most affordable home starts at $359,000. Though that’s not exactly low-income pricing, Steve Nygren specifically built some smaller cottages and apartments on his land and allocates a percentage of homes for rental to help diversify the Serenbe community. He believes his model can be adopted by any community, no matter the income level.

“The principles that make Serenbe work isn’t about the granite curbs or the custom street lights of the fancy housing,” says Nygren. Instead, he points to exposure to nature, porches, community events, and other aspects that can be repeated without excessive expense.

Serenbe stable [Photo: courtesy of Serenbe]

In fact, that’s what inspired Nygren to act as a consultant for people curious about creating their own wellness community. Several times a month, Serenbe hosts developers, city commissioners, and their bankers from across the world who want to see how it’s done and gather tips from the master.

“Serenbe is now acting as a model for literally communities all around the world,” says Nygren. “The demand is high. And with that demand high, we start changing attitudes of bankers and they’ll start funding places like this.”

In the next few years, Serenbe plans to build a total of 1,200 homes for 3,500 residents.

For Abramson, who began developing wellness communities decades ago, the shifting tide is a hard-won victory. He says the cultural shift didn’t happen suddenly; there have “been years and years of buildup.” Modern-day life, as he sees it, left Americans overstressed, overworked, and craving escapism. So they look for new ways to relieve stress and take care of their health–and one’s home is the most convenient location for the convergence of all these trends.

“It’s not sudden,” he says. “Millennials value their health like it’s a birthright. And the real estate was the last to catch up.”

To that end, the real estate developer is adamant that wellness real estate will continue to grow and infiltrate new areas and demographics.

“I think you’re going to wake up tomorrow and you’re going to hear about more developers doing it,” he says. “It will be a niche until it’s everywhere.”

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Atlanta Schools Announce Weather-Days Makeup Plan

ATLANTA, GA — Atlanta Public Schools have decided to make up for days missed due to weather cancellations by adding some time to days when students would already be in class.

The district will add 30 minutes to the end of each school day from Jan. 29-March 30. That means elementary schools will let out at 3 p.m., high schools will be dismissed at 4 p.m. and middle schools will be dismissed at 4:35 p.m. during that period.

Schools will not be operating according to the district-wide bell schedule during that time and parents should contact the individual school if they have questions about how schedules will be changed, the district said in a news release.

Before making a decision on how to make up the days lost to weather, schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen directed the district to gather information from parents, principals, students, staff and the community on the best way to make up the lost time.

A survey with six options was circulated and, by Sunday, 14,421 people had completed it. Option 5 — extending the school day by 30 minutes until the time was made up — was the most popular choice, the school system said.


“With each school cancellation, I grew more concerned about the significant loss of instructional time our students had suffered,” said Carstarphen said. “Although Atlanta Public Schools has the flexibility and autonomy with operational decisions and is therefore not required by the state to make up days, we know that it’s important to identify possible options for our community to consider and weigh in on. Stakeholder feedback influenced our decision significantly.”

Most recently, Atlanta schools, like most throughout the metro area, were shut down for three days last week when a winter storm dumped snow and ice across north Georgia. After icy precipitation hit roads late Tuesday and early Wednesday, temperatures, aided by strong wind chills, stayed below freezing for days. That meant roadways and bridges that had frozen over took much longer than usual to thaw.

Photo via Shutterstock

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What People Are Looking For In Atlanta Apartments

There are lots of apartment or condos for rental fee in Atlanta, GA. This leaves the inquiry: exactly how can you find apartment or condos for lease in Atlanta that are best for you?

Did you conserve up sufficient cash and also are ultimately able to vacate your moms and dad’s residence? It has to really feel fantastic to taste the flexibility. Rash activities could commonly be the incorrect ones, as well as discovering the best location to live is much more vital compared to you assume.

1. Spending plan – Just check out advertisements of apartment or condos you will certainly have the ability to manage. Other than lease, you will certainly likewise require loan on a monthly basis for food, transport, amusement, as well as various other needs.

2. Location choice – Determine where location of Atlanta you intend to live. Are you a nature enthusiast and also like the borders of this desert city, or are you an event pet and also wish to be close to bars and also club?

Services – If you have your very own auto you could live practically anywhere, however if you do depend on public transport, it would certainly be best to look for apartment or condos for rental fee in Atlanta near purchasing malls, physicians and also healthcare facilities, and so on

4. Your lease will certainly consist of the energies, accessibility to a swimming pool, encased personal outdoor patios, a protected play area, a basketball court, a club home with health and fitness facility, a washing center, and also a lot extra.

Services – If you have your very own vehicle you could live essentially anywhere, yet if you do depend on public transport, it would certainly be best to look for homes for rental fee in Atlanta near purchasing malls, medical professionals as well as medical facilities, and so on

Rash activities could usually be the incorrect ones, and also discovering the appropriate area to live is much more crucial compared to you assume.

There are several apartment or condos for a rental fee in Atlanta, GA. This leaves the inquiry: just how can you situate houses for rental fee in Atlanta that are ideal for you?

Having a checklist of your concerns will certainly be handy in limiting your search. It will certainly make it a great deal much easier to establish which houses for rental fee in Atlanta are best for you.

Atlanta Communities the Fabulous Indeed

Rent an apartment in Atlanta is best and the obvious for sure and it can make you feel perfect. There are many reasons which would be so fine for you and you will come up with the obvious decision of the righteous place and this will be in the finest order for you. You can find that everything you will meet here would be so trouble if not being dealt properly. You must have to be careful and it can make you feel with obvious and with the reliable term.

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