Suburban and intown poverty face similar challenges: affordable housing and transportation

‘There is just no appetite to me to really get into the issues that we have’

What do South Cobb County and southeast Atlanta’s Lakewood Heights have in common? Both are areas where a lot of low-income people live and where it’s a 40-plus minute bus ride to some of the really important things they need, for one thing.
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? Cobb County Commissioner Lisa Cupid said Cumberland Mall area and its jobs are 20 minutes by car from her South Cobb home but twice that for her constituents on the zigzag bus route. John Berry, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Georgia, a charity, said anybody without a car in parts of Lakewood Heights could spend 40 minutes traveling one way a grocery store.
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? Both made the comments at SVDP’s first Poverty Forum, a gathering of some 250 Georgia nonprofit staff, advocates, government officials and others. The summit is meant to build a deeper understanding of poverty among attendees and give them a chance to come up with solutions.
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? ??? Similar barriers cut off those who don’t have the money to get things like cars or home down payments, both ITP and OTP. Barbara Duffy is the executive director of North Fulton Community Charities, which works in Roswell, Mountain Park, Alpharetta, Johns Creek, and Milton. She tells of an extended-stay motel where so many people are trying to raise children that two school buses pick up there.
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? “The draw is there are jobs, but they are low-wage, entry-level, service industry jobs,” Duffy said. Nearby housing is expensive. “The so-called low-income hosing that we have is old, ripe for development and our city fathers think it’s wonderful when one of those complexes sells and it gets redeveloped into high-end luxury multi-family living.”
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? One complex in Roswell used to house 150 families at a maximum $500 a month, she said, and it is now rebuilt into apartments that start at $1,700 a month.
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? So it’s not clear where, exactly, the people who wait tables or run cash registers are supposed to live. Not next door in Cobb County, apparently.
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? “When you see us debate heavily bringing in a new rental property at $2,000 a month because we don’t want rental property – at $2,000 a month we debated!” said Cupid. “There is just no appetite to me to really get into the issues that we have.”
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? According to the Atlanta Regional Commission, suburban poverty in metro Atlanta rose by more than 7 percentage points between 2000 and 2013 — the greatest jump among the country’s 25 largest metro areas. About 13.8 percent of people in Cobb County live below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census statistics. Their definition of “poverty” varies in part on age and family size, but for a two-person family of under-65s, an annual income $15,934 or below equals poverty.  For Fulton County, the number of people getting by on that kind of money is 18.2 percent. In Gwinnett, it’s 13.7 percent.
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? Political leaders in Atlanta seem to want to do something about poverty, Berry said. He said the city is gentrifying and rents are reaching $700 dollars and more in neighborhoods traditionally considered home to people on very low incomes. But it’s possible, he thinks, political leaders just don’t know what exactly to do.
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? “I think within the city there is, this is me, I think there is too much of an emphasis on economic development that benefits the upper-income communities,” he said. “There is not enough of an effort to address balance, affordable housing and livable communities.”
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? Atlanta officials have said they plan to introduce a housing proposal to boost affordability which could include inclusionary zoning or incentives.