Kia plant CEO tells state lawmakers affordable housing shortage hurting worker recruitment

Kia plant CEO tells state lawmakers affordable housing shortage hurting worker recruitment

Kia’s assembly plant in West Point opened in 2008 with more than enough workers available to produce the first cars. Now, it’s become much harder to fill the 500 new jobs needed to get a new compact SUV off the assembly line.

A committee of Georgia legislators heard from Kia Georgia CEO Stuart Countess on Thursday that the biggest obstacle is that many interested applicants for jobs that pay $17-$23 per hour are having trouble finding affordable housing near the west Georgia plant.

Kia has been in close communication with Troup County and other government officials about housing development plans, according to Countess, and he urges other large employers to collaborate with government and community leaders to prepare for the 50,000 manufacturing jobs that are expected to be created in Georgia in the next decade.

Among the creative solutions Kia Georgia has tried is talking to a developer about the possibility of building workforce housing. The shortage worsened during the pandemic when home development stalled due to supply chain issues, making it harder to buy or rent a house.

“The housing market creates additional complications for families considering a relocation to pursue employment as we know the housing market is in an exceedingly high demand with most affordable homes in the area lasting hours before asking prices are being offered to buyers,” he said at Thursday’s meeting held at the Georgia State Capitol.

Before the new legislative session begins in January, the Georgia House Study Committee on Regulation, Affordability and Access to Housing will have met multiple times in an attempt to identity solutions that legislators can take to ease some of the problems caused by a lack of affordable housing in the state, for renters, entry-level homeowners and middle-class families.

Macon Republican state Rep. Dale Washburn offered his support for workforce housing, noting it will take a multilayer approach to address the shortage of housing, primarily below $300,000.

He recalled a Macon neighborhood where cotton mill employees once lived in company-owned housing.

“Ideally I think for big industries, investing in housing could end up being a good investment,” Washburn said.

According to Barbara Holmes, president of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, the south Georgia community is working to identify what constitutes affordable housing in the region.

There was a 6% drop in home ownership in Albany and surrounding Dougherty County from 2009 to 2020, and home prices have risen by 17% over the past couple of years. Holmes said the market presents a hardship for renters, first-time buyers, and middle-class families, and for many people looking to move out of public housing.

It’s hard to find nice housing between $100,000 and $150,000 in the Albany area, she said

“Bidding wars in Dougherty County’s real estate market is not what I say is (typical) and so you’re seeing prices that are squeezing out homeownership that is truly affordable,” Holmes said. “What we have is an old stock of homes but nothing newer for our recent college graduates, first-time home buyers.”

Tax credits are being used in south Georgia to build a multifamily workforce housing complex six miles from a Hyundai manufacturing plant planned near Savannah, said Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Christopher Nunn.

As a result of the loss of federal funding, DCA has been unable to provide as many Georgians loans and down payments for homeowners who earn 120% or less than the other areas’ median household income.

Department officials said they expect a surge in interest in the loan program on Friday when the house price limit is increased to $297,000 for most of the state and even higher in Atlanta and Savannah.

The committee also discussed how building codes and government design standards drive up developer costs.

Nunn was asked by Chatsworth Republican state Rep. Jason Ridley if any cost-benefit analyses had been conducted on new regulations.

And Republican state Rep. Martin Momtahan, a Dallas Republican, said an international code standard created a major burden for builders in Paulding County and throughout the state.

Currently, the DCA is involved in a statewide advisory group, which is composed of representatives of general contracting, code enforcement, city and county government leaders, and trade associations.

“We don’t just take a blanket approach and say Georgia, adopt all these codes as is,” Nunn said.

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