Forum addresses Cullman area’s housing gap

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James Gilleylen, president and CEO of JQUAD Planning Group, speaks at Thursday night’s Community Needs Forum hosted by the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce at the Cullman County Courthouse. (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN – The Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce hosted part two of its Community Needs Forum series, “Your Community, Your Future,” Thursday night at the Cullman County Courthouse. The series focuses on three areas: live, work and play. The first part of the series, which focused on working in the Cullman area, took place in August. Part two focused on living in the Cullman area.

The Chamber’s Housing Task Force partnered with consultant JQUAD Planning Group “to provide strategies and solutions to the Cullman area’s well-defined housing gap.”

Several local realtors and other community members discussed the trends, concerns and hopes they would like to see addressed. JQUAD is conducting surveys with area industries, Wallace State Community College and the community. The data will be presented in a report it hopes to present in January.

JQUAD President and CEO James Gilleylen said, “The data presented in the report will be the beginning of the process, not the end. It will tell you what the housing needs are in your community.” 

Thursday night’s forum consisted of four main points of discussion.

Discussion 1: What characteristics are more important for your neighborhood/community? 

Pedestrian and bike access, diverse housing types, proximity to shopping and retail, and others were discussed. The lack of modern rental properties, sidewalks and bicycle paths, and regulatory constraints placed on properties were a few of the top concerns among forum participants. 

Discussion 2: Our current housing supply is attractive and adequate for younger demographic groups: 63 percent disagreed while 37 percent strongly disagreed. With zero percent strongly agreeing or agreeing, the next discussion addressed the type of housing participants would like to see in their community. 

The need for modern apartment communities and affordable single-family housing for young families, students and millennials were of great concern. According to the Chamber, 11,000 people commute into Cullman to work. Several believed modern apartment communities could benefit Cullman and would help attract future industrial growth.

Gilleylen said, “When Amazon was looking for new cities to build centers, the first concern was if the city’s housing and infrastructure could support the increase in workforce.”

Discussion 3: What does affordable mean to you? What is the biggest challenge you or those you know face in acquiring affordable housing?

Down payments and access to lenders were two obstacles mentioned.

Gilleylen added, “Experts say 30 percent of income going to housing is affordable.”

Many present felt that in Cullman housing costs exceed 30 percent. 

Discussion 4: What is attractive about living in Cullman? What changes should be made to retain residents?

Retention of residents brought the topic of modern apartment communities to the floor again. Everyone agreed that Cullman offered fun activities, beautiful parks, great schools and safety. Suggestions for improvement were sidewalks, bike lanes, more housing for seniors and mixed-use properties. 

Gilleylen praised the Cullman Chamber of Commerce for making housing and the personal needs of the community important priorities, saying, “They should be applauded for spearheading this and addressing housing needs and development.”

Community members are encouraged to complete a survey on the Cullman area’s housing needs at www.surveymonkey.com/r/CullmanAreaHousingSurvey.

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