Close to one-tenth of the people who live in Norcross are estimated to live in one of its 14 extended stay motels, according to a report released Tuesday night by a group looking into homelessness in the city.
LiveNorcross spent recent months looking into the city’s extended stay motel population to study the challenges that exist to affordable housing in Norcross. LiveNorcross was established a year and a half ago through a partnership with the state to address issues facing the city’s homeless population.
Those results were unveiled at the Norcross Cultural Arts Center on Tuesday night.
“Early on, we knew that families and individuals lived in the city’s extended stay motels and we wanted to find out ‘Who are they?’ ‘Why they live there?’ and ‘What resources do they have?’” the Latin American Association’s Aixa Pascual said. “(So) we knocked on the doors of extended stay motels in Norcross.”
A big takeaway from the extended stay motel survey is that nine of the 14 motels in the city are primarily being used by customers as long-term housing. The survey estimated that between 8% and 12% of Norcross’ residents live in extended stay motels.
That estimate is based on the survey determining 1,294 extended stay motel rooms in the city being used for long-term housing and counting it against the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimate that more than 16,000 people live in the city.
LiveNorcross member Kathleen Allen, one of the leaders of the survey, said the organization’s work on examining the extended stay resident population sheds a light on a community that she feels could potentially be otherwise overlooked.
“It matters to me because these are our neighbors,” she said. “It’s so easy to think these people are just coming and going and to not see that they are our neighbors.”
According to a demographic breakdown of the people living in the motels, 70% of them are African Americans, while 22% are white, 4% are Hispanic and 1.3% are Asian.
Women who are the heads of their households make up 45% of the extended stay motel households.
Twenty-nine percent of the people who live in extended stay motels are elderly. Twenty-one percent of the residents receive Social Security or disability payments.
Allen said not all of the people who live in the extended stay motels in the city are necessarily low-income workers. One issue she and other LiveNorcross members pointed out regarding why people are living in extended stay motels is lack of affordable housing.
A report summary that was handed out to attendees at Tuesday’s presentation pointed to apartment rents that are in excess of $1,000 per month and home prices that are $500,000 or more as issues driving housing insecurity.
Allen and Gwinnett Housing Corporation Executive Director Lejla Prljaca said many residents are also “cost burdened.” They explained that ideally a person should not spend more than 30% of their income on housing, or else that person becomes “cost burdened.”
Data presented in the report summary pegs the number of “cost burdened” renters in Norcross at 60%, while the median rent price in the city is $1,008.
“What surprised me the most is I didn’t realize how much money some of these families (living in extended stays) make,” Allen said. “They software workers, they’re salaried employees.
“They’re not people making just minimum wage salaries — I mean, some of them are, but many are not. They’re working in factories in Gwinnett. It really is the working poor, and it’s just that struggle to get out is just brutal.”
Some policy recommendations presented Tuesday night included: creating a crime-free hotel and motel program; working with nonprofit organizations that administer rapid rehousing funds; adding affordable housing; converting extended stay hotels and motels into permanent housing; and taking another look at the hotel-motel excise tax to allocate some of its funds to address homelessness and affordable housing.
“Gwinnett County leads the region in median rents, so we’re not the suburban county that we used to be 20 years ago when many people came here to build up their wealth and for low cost of housing and low cost of living,” Prljaca said.