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Housing, businesses on rise in Clayton

By Kevin Liles

With two months to go in this fiscal year, Clayton County has already issued more building permits than all of last year. A total of 2,778 have been issued through April, compared to 2,564 for last fiscal year that ended June 30.

This doesn't come as any surprise to Chad Langley, a building superintendent, or Victor Jones, who just moved into a new house in the fast-growing Lovejoy area.

"People are wanting to move south away from Atlanta," Langley said over the roar of a front-end loader moving dirt for the front lawn of a house under construction. "And Lovejoy provides just that."

Langley, who works for Tilghman Lifestyle Communities, is overseeing the construction of 68 homes in the Fleming Cove subdivision, which is on Lovejoy Road.

"Lovejoy is the hottest thing in the state right now," said Bobby Cartwright, a Lovejoy City Council member. "In the last six months, we've zoned a 1,000 homes. And 18 months from now, we'll be the number two city in the county."

Jones, who is retired and a New York native, said he chose Clayton County because the homes are well built and "the people are friendlier."

"Houses are cheaper here," he said. " I just hope it doesn't get over populated like New York."

Since July 1 of last year, the start of the county's fiscal year, 1,780 building permits for single family houses were issued, according to statistics from the Clayton County Department of Community Development. In that same period, 40 permits were issued for multi-family housing units compared to 21 last year.

Most of the construction in the county is happening in the Lovejoy area and around Interstate 675, said Eddie Williams, director of Community Development.

Riverdale and Forest Park are the only areas that are saturated with construction so far, Williams said.

Those building permits are expected to bring an estimated 5,700 new residents to Clayton County this year, which is already home to 236,517 people, according to the most recent Census numbers.

Til Stanfield, owner of Tilghman Communities, said the average income for families moving into his subdivisions is between $60,000 and $70,000. His homes, which sit on 1/3 or ? acre lots, sell for as low as $150,000 and go up to $300,000.

Lovejoy is a builder's haven because zoning for high-density housing is easier to get than in other areas of the county, Cartwright said.

"Generally, you'll get your teeth kicked in for everywhere else," he said. "You get a lot of opposition to having three homes on an acre in Jonesboro, but you don't get that here."

Cartwright added that the Lovejoy Mayor Joe Murphy is the assistant director for the Clayton County Department of Community Development.

"We don't want this development to come back on us in a few years, so we're making sure it's done right," he said.

One reason for the housing boom is low interest rates.

"It's a buyer's market these days," said Bowen Family Homes Building Superintendent Keith Black. "Why pay $800 in rent when you can buy a house? Especially with interest rates as low as they've been in years."

Williams said that Clayton County's growth has been steady for about 15 years, even when the rest of the country was in the grips of a recession.

Joy Funk, an 18-year veteran Realtor and owner of Joy Funk Realty, said she hasn't had any trouble selling homes in Clayton County.

"Henry County has gotten so crowded, and I think people like the conveniences in Clayton County, like I-75," she said. "There's been tremendous growth in out-of-state people buying homes in metro Atlanta."

Funk sells homes in the upper $200,000 and low-to-mid $300,000 range. Most of the new homes around Lovejoy are in the $100,00 to $150,000 ranges, she said.

Bart Lewis, chief of the Research Division for the Atlanta Regional Commission, said Clayton County accounts for about 7 percent of the 10-county metro Atlanta area.

"Clayton County's population has grown at a rate of 2.3 percent per year, which is the same rate as the Atlanta region," he said.

From his manicured lawn in the Registry at Lovejoy subdivision, Jones points in all directions to houses that have popped up since he moved in.

Across the street, beside where a Wal-Mart Supercenter is under construction, several dozen lots have plumbing pipes and electrical wires jutting from the ground, waiting on houses to be attached to them.

Clayton County's per capita land values are higher than the state as a whole.

If all of Clayton County's property were divided among its residents, each person would own $25,511 worth of land, said Catherine Ross, director of the Georgia Tech Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development.

The state's value of property per capita is $24,462.

But Clayton County isn't the only area that is experiencing growth; Earlier this month, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that April was a record month for new construction.

"The trend is definitely for new houses," Funk said. "And because of that, the resale market is hurting. But it will catch up because we will eventually run out of land."

Housing isn't the only thing that has grown in Clayton County:

Between July 1 and the end of April, 5,309 businesses have gotten licenses. Permits for 473 commercial buildings were issued in the same period.

"It certainly hasn't slowed down over here," said Brenda Deleshaw, Clayton County's business license supervisor, of people applying for business licenses. "We've had a whole bunch of new businesses in Clayton County. It seems like a record high."

People like Olivia Carradine, who recently opened A Clean Sweeping Service in Jonesboro, got a license from Deleshaw.

Carradine worked for Wal-Mart before opening her business in February.

"My father has a cleaning service in New Orleans, so I wanted to open here," Carradine said.