Ray Christman
Ray Christman retired from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta after serving eight years as President and Chief Executive Officer. Prior to assuming the position in Atlanta, he served as Chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh. He also served as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Pittsburgh Technology Council and also held the position of Secretary of Commerce for the state of Pennsylvania. He currently is serving as Chairman of the Peachtree Corridor Partnership. He also served as Interim President of The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation and is Chairman of the Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Work Force Housing Center in Atlanta.
“... there is nothing more central to fulfilling the needs and potential of our cities than the role of housing.”

February 17, 2009
Housing and Cities: A Central Element to Urban Vitality
Ray Christman, Consultant & Retired President and Chief Executive Officer, Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta

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For the past 20 years, cities have enjoyed a renaissance in Georgia and more broadly across America. Cities have remerged and reclaimed a dominant place in the discussion of American life and the ideals to which we aspire.

There are a number of factors which account for the desire of a greater number of people to live in cities and enjoy urban life. However, there is nothing more central to fulfilling the needs and potential of our cities than the role of housing. Housing is a common thread in our lives, whether as an expression of basic needs, preferences or our aspirations.

For cities to be able to continue to respond to current demands and participate in future growth requires the availability of a diverse, high quality housing stock. Fortunately, many of our cities have a plentiful supply of older housing built when these municipalities were first established and had their early growth. And a number of urban centers have seen new residential development, particularly of condos and apartments, to respond to growing demand of younger people and empty nesters.

Over the past two years, however, the housing boom in urban America has ground to a halt under the weight of the subprime mortgage crisis and the overbuilding of housing supply. Among other challenges Georgia’s cities will have to deal with several housing related issues as they try to manage their way out of the current economic recession.

First, the spike in foreclosures has been unduly concentrated in poorer urban neighborhoods, as well as in the exurbs of metropolitan areas.  Many cities will need to consider for the first time in years traditional urban redevelopment measures such as demolition of abandoned structures, land banking, incenting new development, all in order to reclaim and improve neighborhoods where as many as 50-60% of homes are abandoned or in foreclosure.

Second, cities will be affected by the likely long-term reduction in credit availability for many of America’s prospective home buyers. Lower income and workforce families, which represent two out of every three American households, will find it very hard to qualify for mortgages in the future, making it especially important that cities have a good supply of quality rental housing to meet the housing needs of these groups.

And third, cities will have to develop strategies to continue to encourage homebuilders and developers to build market-rate housing. These types of investments will locate in urban areas to the extent that local governments provide the infrastructure and quality of life improvements that will attract new residents and make their developments successful.

Despite the challenges presented by the current economic downturn, Georgia’s cities should be well-positioned to grow and prosper in the future. The likely long-term rise in energy costs will encourage people to live in locations where the commute to work is shorter and public transportation is available. Both older and younger Georgians are looking for urban lifestyle alternatives in greater numbers.

But the availability of good quality housing choices at different price points will be critical for any city, large or small, to be part of this renaissance and to keep alive the inspiration of American life as a journey to a City Upon a Hill.

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