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Q&A: Frustrated Atlanta millennial contemplates leaving ‘just another overpriced city’

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“Millennials are starting to settle down, get married, buy houses, and have kids. We can't be shacking up with four roommates to pay rent and save money anymore.”

A silhouette of a woman being interviewed by somebody.
The millennial in question is a California expat. This isn’t her.

Meet “Penelope,” an Atlanta millennial with a lot on her mind.

She’s a 31-year-old single mother originally from Northern California who moved to Atlanta for its prospects of affordable city living—and for a guy who ended up being a jerk.

So Penelope has been disappointed on two levels, she says.

But she loves her job and the city’s culture, and she plans to stay. For now.

Penelope (she requested anonymity and a pseudonym) reacted strongly to a poll released last week by Apartment List that showed 70 percent of Atlanta millennials (adults born after 1981) feel that homeownership is beyond reach right now.

Thankfully, Penelope agreed to the following interview to expound on her situation—one that many Atlanta millennials can likely identify with.

A lover of cooking, travel, and urban bicycle rides, Penelope rents near Lindbergh and Morningside, but she’s contemplating a move to the ‘burbs. She works in digital product design—specifically User Experience Design, with an emphasis on connected hardware and IoT—and she actually studies fellow millennials for a living.


Curbed Atlanta: You're a certified millennial, correct?

Millennial: I drink local craft beer. Work on my Mac at coffee shops. And I wear Fabletics workout pants when I go shopping—not really.

CA: Where do you live in Atlanta, and why’d you choose to move there?

M: I live in Piedmont Heights. I used to live in North Druid Hills until I learned gerrymandering was alive and well. My daughter's teacher told us she didn't have the resources to help her catch up to a new curriculum. I now rent in Piedmont Heights so my daughter can attend rich-people school.

CA: What makes Atlanta unique for you? Why is the city special?

M: If Oakland and San Francisco had a love child—it would be Atlanta. The food, art, and music culture remind me a lot of the north coast vibes.

CA: In a perfect world, what would be your ideal Atlanta neighborhood? And what type of property would you own or rent there?

M: I love Piedmont Heights and Virginia-Highland. I'd appreciate a townhome or house ... corner-facing lot, bay windows, and wraparound porch. They're both great communities to raise children and have excellent schools. I also appreciate how close they are to the Beltline.

The Eastside Trail last autumn.
Curbed Atlanta

CA: How concerned are you that Atlanta is becoming unaffordable for young people?

M: It's no longer a concern; it's a reality. When young people are willing to pay practically two mortgages to live in a moderately high-crime area, inside of a building that hasn't settled and experience all of its construction problems, the situation has matured from concerning.

CA: Beyond rising rents and housing costs, what about Atlanta most concerns you right now?

M: Good schools and bicycle safety. It breaks my heart that children don't have an equal opportunity to a good education because of practices like gerrymandering. Schools which are suffering should get more federal and state funding. The two schools that rank over an 8 in Atlanta fundraise over $100,000 on their own every year. Furthermore, this city has the potential to be so bike-friendly. Driving is awful! I wish they would make this a priority.

CA: What are you hearing from millennial friends about the state of Atlanta's livability and affordability?

M: Everyone is frustrated about the housing prices going up, grateful that they make a good salary, miserable about the prospect of commuting in this traffic if they move. I want to live in Smyrna or Vinings, and it irritates me that Interstate 75 isn't connected to the city. I feel so old telling other millennials to stop spending their salaries on rent; but at the same time, nobody wants to commute. The traffic is awful, so for many, it's worth throwing away half their income on rent.

I think people tend to forget millennials are starting to settle down, get married, buy houses, and have kids. We can't be shacking up with four roommates to pay rent and save money anymore. If we can't afford to own a car, buy a house in a good school district, and have a decent quality of life, what incentive is there to stay? Why have more children? I struggle with this.

A 1,300-square-foot Cabbagetown bungalow that listed recently at $450,000.
Harry Norman Realtors

CA: Do you think Atlanta millennials are doing enough to make their living situations better?

M: Millennials work harder and longer hours than any generation post-Industrial Revolution. We also presently make up 50 percent of the workforce (researching millennials is part of my job), so I'd appreciate if Baby Boomers and Gen X would value our contribution to society. It's harder for us to find a job as automation is on the rise, and leading Gen X’ers haven't retired yet (yeah, we need your jobs, lower the retirement age). I don't need to hear from anyone that because I am eating too much avocado toast, I can't afford a house. I'm salaried, typically work 60-plus hours a week, and make a comfortable six-figure salary. If I choose to stay in Atlanta (the city), that salary remains my housing budget. I work too hard to throw my money away like that. I want to travel and retire, man.

A lot of people tell me to move, but as a single mom, I need my child to be close to where I work (Midtown), to attend a great school to compensate for what I can't provide, and to enjoy quality time with her (not time commuting). You could argue that I should have dual incomes (marry someone) or I shouldn't have had a kid, but I make as much as two people would make. I'm in the top 1 percent of women in the U.S., and top 5 percent of all workers. It's insane how much housing burdens my budget. And since the school system sucks and she can't attend summer school—childcare in the summer costs me another $500 to $1000 a month.

I give a large portion of my paycheck to live in this community so my daughter can attend a decent school. It's fucked up, man.

CA: It sounds like you've contemplated a move to the Atlanta suburbs. Where would you consider going, and why?

Smyrna. I like the bicycle paths, the affordability, and that it’s a stone’s throw from the city. Taco Cantina is the shit, too—I drive up there every Tuesday for their cheaper/better Bar Taco-style tacos. Fifty percent of that decision is weighted by tacos; Californians take tacos seriously. Unfortunately, the schools suck. I may have to stay in Atlanta. I have two years to decide.

CA: How would you feel about following through with moving up there?

M: Upset. I love living in the city. I love being close to work. I love the values of acceptance, tolerance, and kindness within the city. I love riding my bike around. I am upset that the city government isn't doing anything to address housing inflation.

CA: Despite your concerns, are you proud of the direction Atlanta is heading? Are you proud to live here? Or is the affordability pinch just too much?

M: I don't know. The quality-of-life and affordability of city living is what made Atlanta prospective to me. It's just another overpriced city now. I didn't move 2,500 miles to be burdened by living expenses.