A recent online article about the extremely high foreclosure rate in Snellville has ruffled quite a few feathers. Part of the feather ruffling was a consequence of the survey results being based on data from an overall area, as opposed to data that pertains to foreclosures within city limits. Irrespective of the manner in which the data is sliced, the report appears to give the city a black eye. I see it from an entirely different perspective.
As in other parts of the county—and the nation—most of the foreclosures are a result of people buying houses they couldn’t afford. Without question, the economic downturn, and the high rate of unemployment it has created, factor into the foreclosure scenario. However, even if the economy had hit a small dip, as opposed to a pot hole the size of Lake Lanier, the foreclosure rate still would have spiked; financing based on a wing, a prayer and insufficient income virtually guarantees an eviction notice.
Snellville’s disturbing foreclosure rate is arguably more a function of the city being a desirable place to live, than of a systemic problem within the city. A number of factors converged to create Snellville’s foreclosure problems, but the core issue is that people were attracted to Snellville and bought houses during the easy-money years. Had fewer families opted for houses they truly couldn’t afford, there would now be fewer foreclosures.
U.S. Census Bureau statistics validate that perspective; they demonstrate that previously and currently, Snellville home ownership rates are higher than those of the county, state or nation. In Snellville, 82.2% of residents own their homes, compared to 71.3% in Gwinnett County and 66.6% in Georgia; vacancy rates are on a par with those in the county.
So where do we go from here? The national economy will dictate much of the future, but city governments can have a significant influence over the local housing market by promoting economic development, enhancing the sense of community and building an image that captures people’s imagination. Snellville leaders are already doing much of that. The weekly Farmer’s Market, community events like the “Beach Blast”, “Sizzling Summer Weekend”, “Star-Spangled Snellville”, “Snellville Days”, concerts on the Towne Greene, movies in Briscoe Park, and the new Community Garden all shine a positive light on the city and accent its desirability as a place to live.
Economic development activities have brought new businesses to the city and helped existing business to expand, thereby creating more employment opportunities. Academy Sports, The Olive Garden, a Verizon wireless store and the Neighborhood Market are all recent and significant new additions. A number of existing areas have also been revitalized and Snellville’s Economic Development Department is continuing to focus on and promote opportunities for business.
These are important first steps that will lead to a rebound in housing, and a drop in the foreclosure rate. And while having a headline-grabbing foreclosure rate is regrettable, if Snellville’s current course is maintained, when the economy finally has an upturn, the city will be ideally positioned to experience an equally headline-grabbing home-sales boom.