Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson covered a wide array of issues in her State of County Address to community, government and business leaders on Thursday, but she said afterward that housing was the most important topic that she talked about.
Hendrickson delivered her speech during a morning presentation at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville. The theme of the speech was the kaleidoscope of Gwinnett County, and as such she focused on everything from additional support for police and efforts to improve how law enforcement handles mental health calls to expanding transit and addressing the needs of a growing senior population.
But, in her mind, addressing housing and homelessness issues took precedence above all of the other areas she talked about.
“We have a lot of our constituents, we have a lot of residents who can’t afford to live in this county (and) we have a lot of our workforce who can’t afford to live in this county,” Hendrickson told reporters after her speech. “In order to own a home that is $200,000, you have to make at least $50,000, but we’re not building any homes that are in the $200,000 price range so people are priced out of this community.”
Gwinnett County has been looking into housing related issues. Hendrickson pointed to a few housing related factors that the county is facing during her speech.
One is that Gwinnett has an aging housing stock. Another is that growth in the county’s housing supply has “slowed to a crawl,” she said.
But, perhaps the most pressing issue Hendrickson highlighted in her speech dealt with affordability. She described the price of owning or renting a home in the county as having undergone a dramatic increase, pointing to the total household income of $50,000 a year statistic that she later expounded on with reporters.
She said it’s an issue happening across metro Atlanta, but Gwinnett officials are looking to find a way to address it.
“We want to make sure we’re providing adequate housing opportunities and home ownership for our residents and for the people who work here: our law enforcement, our teachers, our nurses, our public safety officials,” Hendrickson said after her speech. “They’re living outside of the county and we want to try and change that.”
Hendrickson did discuss efforts to help families affected financially by the COVID-19 pandemic stay in their homes, through Project RESET 2.0. The program, she said, has used $46 million in federal funds to help 4,800 households in Gwinnett with rental and utility assistance.
“I’m proud to say that the program was recognized by the US Treasury as a model for other local governments across the country,” she said in her speech.
A housing study was commissioned to look into Gwinnett’s housing issues. Hendrickson said that, now that the study has been completed, the focus is turning toward how evaluating the study’s findings and figuring out how to address the challenges it highlighted.
“We will be instituting a working group to analyze the data and review recommendations to help us develop a comprehensive plan that promotes housing development, increases affordability, and preserves and maintains naturally occurring affordable housing,” Hendrickson said during her speech.
She said afterward that the working group is expected to brought on board this spring.
Some other areas that Hendrickson talked about during her speech include:
Public Safety:♦ Hendrickson highlighted the expansion of a mental health response pilot program, which partners Gwinnett police officers with mental health professionals from View Point Health when they respond to mental health calls, to all six police precincts. She also said the county will make sure officers are properly equipped to combat crime.
♦ Vaccination Efforts:♦ Hendrickson mentioned COVID-19 vaccination sites the county worked with the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments and Piedmont Eastside to set up in 2021. She also highlighted efforts to make vaccinations available to a broad cross section of the county’s population during special events. She said those efforts will continue to take place.
♦ Gwinnett’s Aging Population:♦ Hendrickson said Gwinnett’s Over 60 population doubled from 2000, when it was 8%, to 2019. She said support for seniors and caregivers must be prioritized and mentioned a planned $25 million expansion of the Centerville Community Center that will include a new OneStop human services facility.
♦ Support for Early Learning:♦ The Building Babies Brains program was highlighted. Hendrickson said the county wants to do its part to make sure kids are ready for the classroom before they are old enough to attend school.
♦ Gwinnett County Transit Expansion:♦ A $2 million, multi-year expansion of Gwinnett County Transit that includes new routes and microtransit was highlighted. Hendrickson also mentioned the county is about to update its comprehensive transportation plan and work on a new plan for transit expansion.
♦ Economic Development: Projects, such as the soon-to-open Water Tower water research and innovation center, were discussed. The Gwinnett Place Mall Site Revitalization Strategy that the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District is leading in partnership with the county was also highlighted. The chairwoman said economic development projects that the county is involved in will be approached with equity and public input in mind.