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Metro Atlanta's population surges in the suburbs

Here's a look at the data.

ATLANTA — Feeling a little crowded?

If you live in Atlanta's suburbs, you're not imagining things.

Atlanta's 29-county metropolitan statistical area added nearly 43,000 people from July 2020 to July 2021, according to the latest population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. That translates to about 117 people per day. The total increase ranks sixth among all metro areas in the United States.

All of that growth came in counties not named DeKalb or Fulton.

The two counties that include the city of Atlanta actually lost residents. Fulton County's population declined by more than 3,600 people. In DeKalb County, it felt by more than 6,100.

The suburban surge is creating extreme demand for housing, according to Bill Rawlings, a broker with Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby's International.

Houses selling for above asking price is increasingly common across the metro area. Rawlings said he sees this happen most often in the northern suburbs and ascribes it to buyers who are moving from Intown Atlanta. For example, if someone owns a $2 million home in Buckhead and wants an upgrade in space, their equity would go a long way in locations outside the city.

"You have that money burning a hole in your pocket, and $2 million in Milton will get you a whole lot more house," Rawlings said.

This phenomenon is a microcosm of the U.S. housing market. With the rise of remote work during the pandemic, many Americans in expensive, coastal cities have departed for smaller markets with lower costs of living.

Sunbelt cities such as Atlanta are popular destinations for these movers. They offer warm climates and tend to have comparably lower tax rates. Each metro area ranking in the top 10 for population growth in 2021 is located in the Sunbelt.

Corporate expansions also contribute to the local population boom. Metro Atlanta is attractive to companies for many of the same reasons that it is to individuals.

"It's very inexpensive compared to high-cost markets," said Dominic Purviance, a senior financial specialist in the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's Supervision, Regulation and Credit Division. "That's not likely to change."

A little less than 20,000 people moved to metro Atlanta counties from other counties in Georgia or other states. About 5,700 new residents arrived from outside the United States. Metro Atlanta's "natural" change in population — a calculation of births and deaths — was a net gain of almost 18,000.

The type of growth metro Atlanta underwent last year can come at a price.

Local population spreading outside the city contributes to a longtime Atlanta bogeyman: traffic. While many companies view the metro area as a favorable market for expansion, traffic can be prohibitive.

Belgium-based cybersecurity firm Spotit recently chose Raleigh, North Carolina, over Atlanta for its U.S. hub, which will create 100 jobs with an average salary of $90,000. Spotit founding partner Steven Vynckier told the Triangle Business Journal that "traffic jams are a bit more aggressive" in Atlanta, which tipped the scales toward Raleigh.

With the 2021 increase, Atlanta is now the eighth-most populous metro area in the country. It surpassed Miami, which lost close to 35,000 people last year.

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