In the race for population growth within Metro Atlanta, Gwinnett and Fulton counties run neck-in-neck. But that is where the counties’ similarities end.
While Fulton — dominated by the City of Atlanta — has seen apartments boom, Gwinnett’s housing stock has remained faithful to what has made the county one of the largest suburban communities in the Southeast: single-family houses.
In a recent study by the Atlanta Regional Commission, Gwinnett and Fulton counties dominated in year-over-year population growth. Fulton saw 17,100 new residents and Gwinnett saw 16,900 as of April. Both counties commanded more than 40% of the total population growth in the 10-county metro area, which saw the population rise by 78,300 residents to 4,480,100.
How developers housed residents in each county was markedly different.
“The City of Atlanta is growing in a very different way than Gwinnett,” ARC Manager of Research and Analytics Mike Carnathan said. “Gwinnett has built a place that is primarily built through single-family residential. It’s fundamentally different than what’s inside the urban core.”
Fulton, including the city, saw the most residential construction permits filed this past year, more than 11,000 of a combination of single-family and multifamily permits. But Atlanta dominated those permits, primarily with multifamily, adding some 8,000 new units this past year.
Gwinnett County saw fewer residential permits in 2016, nearly 4,000, but that growth was dominated by single-family homes, according to the study. Cobb County also saw some 4,000 new residential units, but more than half of its new housing stock was in apartments.
The makeup of housing also goes to explain why the raw population growth between the two counties was on equal footing last year, despite Fulton and Atlanta nearly doubling the number of housing units over Gwinnett during the same period, Carnathan said.
Apartments on average are occupied by fewer residents, whereas single-family homes usually have multiple occupants. Some 60% of the apartments in the city are occupied by a single renter, Carnathan said.
Other than Cobb, which saw a majority of new apartments over houses, the other suburban counties in the 10-county area were primarily fueled by a growth in single-family housing. Even Fulton saw more single-family home growth than apartments.
But Carnathan said the next decade could hold a different pattern for Gwinnett and other suburban counties when it comes to the diversity in housing stock. The ARC predicts by 2040 another 2.5 million people will move to the Metro Atlanta region.
“Density is not a four-letter word anymore,” he said. “I do think that we will see more diversity in the housing stock all throughout the region.”
While not as apparent this past year, Gwinnett has been seeing an increase in multifamily and condominium supply in its confines. Already, some Gwinnett cities are experimenting with mixed-use developments, capped by apartments. Suwanee, Duluth, Lawrenceville and even a major mixed-use project around the Gwinnett Infinite Energy Center are belying Gwinnett’s past and present as a bastion of single-family houses.
“I think that Gwinnett will continue to be a preferred community for families over the next decade since I expect that the community factors that attract families will stay strong,” Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash wrote in an email.
“The change that I expect to see is that areas of Gwinnett will become a magnet for young adults, even those who have not formed families,” she continued. “The major development planned at the Infinite Energy Center is an example of the community changes that will up Gwinnett’s cachet with young adults. Growing density in certain areas and more entertainment for young adults will add to the attraction.”
“The density keeps moving up the [Interstate] 85 corridor,” Jacksonville-based Ivy Creek Partners Managing Director Jonathan Garza said. “It’s become very expensive to live in Downtown Atlanta, even in a multifamily space.”
Ivy Creek is currently working on construction financing to begin a $180M mixed-use development next to the Mall of Georgia in Buford. The project is set to include 541 multifamily units, 130K SF of retail, which will include a grocery store, 42 condominium units and a 156-room hotel, Garza said.
It is this type of environment that Garza said should lure millennials wanting walkable, active environments, but are unable to afford those inside the city.
“We call it the sub-urban market,” he said.
The ARC actually sees Gwinnett’s population growth surpassing that of Fulton County in the future, especially as the county invests in its infrastructure, Carnathan said. And if Gwinnett gets heavy rail, that growth could potentially be even more explosive.