VR seems poised for growth spurt

A new subdivision with 194 homes is planned for this area of Reed Road, across from the Bojangles restaurant.

Throughout 2020 and well into this year, housing starts in Villa Rica were way down from previous years. But that, city officials say, is about to change.

In fact, those officials are anticipating more than 5,000 new housing units in the coming months — potentially adding more than 11,000 new residents to the city. If that happens, the population could eclipse that of Carrollton.

During the Sept. 21 City Council meeting, the panel approved rezoning a 75-acre lot off Reed Road to allow the building of a new subdivision with 194 single-family homes.

But that was not the only housing plan discussed that night. The panel also approved a final plat for the last phase of South Harbour, a development project on Mirror Lake left unfinished during the 2007-2008 housing downturn. The new plat adds 48 new homes to the project.

Also, the council gave the green light to the final plat for Liberty Pointe, adding 25 lots to that development off Conners Road. And the panel approved an extension of the rezoning request for the massive Avemore planned development, which, if built, promises to bring 865 single family, multifamily and senior living units to Highway 61.

City Manager Tom Barber told council members that although city revenues from new housing permits and sewer taps had been slow during the pandemic, that situation is about to change, based on queries he and staff have been receiving from builders.

“It just seems like people are popping out of the woodwork,” Barber said.

The Reed Road development, Barber said, is the first “truly new-from-scratch neighborhood” approved in some time. Yet the projects discussed that night represent a surge in new construction.

Building these new homes will likely not take place until next spring, when warmer weather returns. But Barber said these projects cannot come soon enough.

“Every house that we’ve built during these last four years has been sold, either pre-construction or during construction,” Barber said. As a consequence, the supply of new homes is practically non-existent.

In fact, a representative for the Reed Road project told the Council that, as of the time of the Sept. 21 meeting, there were only 14 homes listed for sale in the entire city, far below what he said was a healthy supply of housing.

The housing situation in Villa Rica is well known to city officials. Earlier this month, the city made a bid to be part of a state program designed to help cities with their housing problems.

However, on Tuesday, the city was notified that it had lost its bid for assistance through the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing, a three-year program sponsored by the state Department of Community Affairs and the University of Georgia.

Regardless, city officials point to the ongoing developments — as well as others in various stages of planning — as the pathway out of Villa Rica’s housing shortage.

One reason cited for the slowdown in the city’s issuance of building permits is the cost of housing materials, which have soared nationwide during the pandemic.

That increased construction cost, of course, adds to the price of the house. The average price of a home in Villa Rica — $271,500 — is lower than the $311,000 median new-home price in the state overall, but that cost is beyond most homebuyers.

In fact, only 42% of households in the state can afford that median priced home. According to the 2020 Census, the median income for Carroll County is $53,737. For Douglas County the income is $63,835.

If they are renting instead, they are investing much of that annual income on rents or leases. According to census figures, the median gross rent in Carroll County is $877, or $10,524 per year. It’s even more expensive to rent in Douglas County, where the gross rent is $1,087 per month, or $13,044.

Having suitable building sites is another problem the city faces. Home sites would ideally be near sewer and water infrastructure, but the existing system of pipes was designed decades ago, when the city was a fraction of its current size.

The city has been struggling to upgrade its infrastructure, but it is an expensive project. Yet it could be helped if new construction added to the city’s tax digest.

More than a year ago, Barber announced a 20-year plan that would see the city pay for its many needs through a pattern of steady growth.

In September 2020, Barber calculated that the city must add at least 500 new residential units each year, or about 1,000 new residents. Those new users of city utilities would provide the revenue needed to pay back low-interest loans that would be used for upgrades.

But in a classic case of being careful what you wish for, the city now seems poised for the same massive growth spurt next year that took place before the 2008 housing recession.

“We’re in this citywide, really significant transition from the post 2008 economy to what I’m going to call the 2022 economy,” Barber told the council last week. “The number of projects that are being proposed is overwhelming.”