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Working but poor, many families are trapped in extended-stay hotels

Michael E. Kanell, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Business News

Norcross, bisected by several highways, has a high concentration of motels. Buses come to the motels, picking up children in the early morning when school is open, dropping them off in the afternoon.

The Gwinnett Housing Corp. sent workers to knock on doors at the hotels over the course of two months, said Lejla Prljaca, chief executive. The result: 84% of those that answered were living there, she said. "Quite a few of the hotels are 100% occupied by families. And the vast majority of them work."

While Norcross has a high concentration of extended-stay hotels -- 14 -- it is not unique.

Michael Murphy, chairman's assistant for special projects in Cobb County, said Cobb has not yet been able to carry out a similar survey, but he thinks the results would be parallel.

"I think it's a widespread problem," he said.

Murphy estimates that the county has nearly 30 extended-stay hotels and motels, averaging about 100 rooms each with roughly one-third of them occupied by families. School buses commonly pick up and drop off students at the hotels.

 

"The schools very concerned," he said. "So many children are in these extended stays. It just boggles the mind."

It's not a good situation for adults, but for children, it's a recipe for trouble: cramped arrangements, little privacy, no play space and in some hotels, high rates of crime.

Families in metro Atlanta extended stays typically pay between $200 and $325 a week.

What they pay the motel is often as much as they would pay for rent for modest housing. And money, of course, is a big part of the problem: four of 10 metro Atlanta workers make less than $15.40 an hour -- roughly $32,000 a year, which is $2,667 a month -- according to the Brookings Institution. The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Norcross is about $1,390 a month, according to Apartment List.

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