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Ahead of a zoning hearing on its latest proposal in Mableton, Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Metro Atlanta has rolled out a website it says refutes many of the objections to its developments.

Facing criticism that their homes are a drag on property values and create “pockets of poverty,” Habitat for Humanity is pushing back on opponents of its latest plan to build a new development in south Cobb.

The nonprofit rolled out last week a website it says refutes those objections, calling on the Cobb Board of Commissioners to “make affordable housing a priority” ahead of its proposal’s consideration at Tuesday’s zoning hearing.

At a Planning Commission meeting two weeks ago, some south Cobb residents questioned why Habitat concentrates its building in their corner of the county. Of 383 homes Habitat says it has records for, 274 of those are in District 4, which includes Austell, Mableton, Powder Springs, and much of Smyrna.

“The real issue here is the distribution of Habitat homes, and the concentration … in one particular area,” said Ray Thomas.

Added Denny Wilson, who lives near the proposed project on Hillcrest Drive in Mableton, “I don’t think District 4 should continually take the hit.”

Habitat’s website says there are ample reasons for that concentration.

Part of the rationale comes from restrictive zoning ordinances. Unincorporated Cobb County has far smaller minimum home sizes than several of the county’s cities, requiring a home on a 1/3 acre lot to be 1,150 square feet. Inside the Smyrna city limits, that minimum jumps to 2,000 square feet. Keeping home sizes manageable — around 1,500 square feet or less — lowers costs and allows the group to get homes into the hands of lower income residents.

Indeed, Habitat says its modus operandi of providing affordable housing works both ways; its own construction costs need to be just as affordable. The cost of land in east and west Cobb, it says, “makes it difficult for us to build there.”

Among the critiques leveled by Wilson against Habitat was that a number of its homes (at least a third of those in her neighborhood) have been foreclosed on or fallen into disrepair. Habitat responded that out of nearly 400 homes in the county, just 19 have been abandoned or foreclosed on, and “11 of those homes were brought back into Habitat’s inventory and are now in good standing.”

The nonprofit likewise said it has data refuting Wilson’s assertion that its homes drive down surrounding property values. Jessica Gill, Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Atlanta’s CEO, provided the MDJ with a graphic comparing two areas in south Cobb — one with Habitat homes and one without.

Habitat for Humanity provided this document to the MDJ, which it says demonstrates its homes do not negatively impact surrounding property values.

Both areas suffered a precipitous drop in property values in the late 2000s, driven by the housing and financial markets’ collapse. Both likewise have seen an upward trend in value since roughly 2012, “despite the presence of two large Habitat for Humanity developments” (the area with Habitat homes remains about 20% less valuable per square foot than the area without).

Habitat is billing its mission as responding to a dire community need for inexpensive housing in Cobb County. The site notes that many county teachers, police officers, firefighters, and sheriff’s deputies have salaries below that needed to qualify for a Federal Housing Administration loan on a $360,000 house — the median home price in Cobb for last month.

The problem is further exacerbated, according to Habitat’s data, by other socioeconomic factors. Average incomes for Black and Latino families, as well as single-parent households, all fall below the FHA threshold as well.

“Cobb Chairwoman Lisa Cupid wants to ‘attract desirable development’ in South Cobb,” Habitat, quoting from a previous MDJ article, said. “For home-buyers earning between $25,860 and $68,960 per year, Habitat for Humanity is desirable development.”

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