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Housing Bounces Back In Most, But Not All, Of Atlanta


Before the Great Recession of 2007, Atlanta's housing market was booming and adding tens of thousands of homes every year. When the bust came, the city fell hard. Now condos are shooting up again and there are construction cranes around town, but it's not happening everywhere. WABE's Molly Samuel takes us to one subdivision in Atlanta that never recovered.

MOLLY SAMUEL, BYLINE: From the outside, the Villages at Oakshire looks like a neat, normal housing development. Big brick walls flank the entrance, but drive inside and things seem off.

JERRY HICKS: This house has never been completed.

SAMUEL: Jerry Hicks lives in this subdivision in southeast Atlanta. He walks past a house where the lawn's overgrown and plywood covers the windows. He says it used to be worse when more houses were vacant, but it still doesn't look right. The subdivision's roads are rough and gravelly. They've never been fully paved.

HICKS: We have these nice large houses everywhere, but this road is, you know, it's just ancient looking.

SAMUEL: Hicks moved in in 2007, just in time for the mortgage meltdown. He and many of his neighbors stuck it out, but the developer didn't. The company bailed before it finished building. Now Hicks says he's underwater. He owes more on his mortgage than his house is worth and he's stuck in this unfinished subdivision. The gates at the entrance don't work. People have sewer problems. Half the roads here have no houses. There are hundreds of subdivisions in the metro Atlanta area like this one. Some just have a few empty lots. Some are more like Hicks's neighborhood. It's a legacy of the housing boom before the bust.

DAN IMMERGLUCK: We, along with Phoenix and a couple other cities, led the country in single-family subdivision development and sprawl, really.

SAMUEL: Dan Immergluck teaches city planning a Georgia Tech. He says developers built new neighborhoods like crazy, until the market crashed. Now unfinished subdivisions like these are problems for cities around the country where the housing boom mostly meant more single-family homes. Construction is returning in some places, but not everywhere.

IMMERGLUCK: Well, Atlanta's a paradox because as a metro, the indicators are pretty positive. Job growth has returned. Housing demand has returned.

SAMUEL: Home values in Atlanta are going up. Last year, 17,000 permits for single-family homes were issued. That's not as good as before the bust, but Immergluck says Atlanta is a dual market. For instance, in Jerry Hicks's zip code, half the homeowners are still underwater years after the recession ended.

IMMERGLUCK: I think we have a bigger kind of race and space divide than lots of other cities.

SAMUEL: Villages at Oakshire is in Joyce Sheperd's district. She's an Atlanta city councilwoman. She says, the wealthier areas, for developers, they're low-hanging fruit. But in her district...

JOYCE SHEPERD: So when you talk about developers who want to come in and talk about reinvesting, when they look at numbers and they crunch numbers, they're not coming.

SAMUEL: Hicks says when he sees development happening on the other side of town, it leaves him feeling like a stepchild, like he's being ignored. Why has he stuck around so long? He says, it's partially to get his money back, but the main reason...

HICKS: I fell in love with the house, you know, basically. And I do think it's going to turn around, just when (laughter) you know, so...

SAMUEL: One potential bright spot is street paving. Councilwoman Sheperd says that should happen next year. And a couple of developers have started poking around in the empty half of the subdivision and may finally build there - just one more sign that the U.S. housing market is beginning to bounce back. For NPR News, I'm Molly Samuel in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Molly Samuel