ATLANTA — For generations, home ownership has provided individuals and families with a path toward economic prosperity, and a strong residential construction industry is known as an indicator of a healthy economy. However, recent restrictions and mandates enacted by some local jurisdictions are infringing on private property rights and adversely affecting home buyers, escalating the cost of new home purchases beyond the reach of some buyers, especially those interested in entry-level and work force housing.
These restrictions are “above and beyond” typical zoning ordinances and building codes, which are already in place to protect the safety of both the home builder and the home buyer.
In Georgia, local jurisdictions throughout the state have begun creating and enforcing residential design standards for new home construction, effectively creating a city- or countywide Home Owners Association. These restrictions range from requiring particular design techniques (like basements, porches or complex roof structures) to prohibiting certain building materials (like vinyl windows or vinyl siding). Regulations may include how windows are spaced, where garages are located, whether slabs must be elevated or even allowed, and other aesthetics of exterior design. They may require certain building materials, while prohibiting others. In most cases, the additional restrictions increase costs for the home buyer, according to the Home Builders Association of Georgia.
“We believe this new example of over-reaching big government hurts entry-level home buyers the most,” HBAG President Jim Brown said in a news release. “Local design mandates artificially increase the cost of new homes above what a healthy market can support. A builder or developer creates a product to respond to market demand — using licensed residential architects, landscape professionals and housing market experts to design a home that will be attractive to many home buyers. These design mandates exist outside the realities of the housing market.”
A recent study published by the National Association of Home Builders shows how raising the price of a new home by just $1,000 can “price-out” some home buyers, making them unable to purchase a new home. The median new home price in Georgia for 2019 is $318,739. Using standard underwriting criteria, a household income of $86,475 is required to buy this average house. For every $1,000 that median price increases, 5,783 more Georgians are unable to pursue the American Dream of home ownership. If government-mandated design requirements add $30,000 in cost to the price of a new home, then 173,490 hard-working Georgians who could have afforded to buy that house for their families are no longer able.
The Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute, reports, “Local governments are stifling innovation, mandating aesthetics and materials, restricting designs and layouts, all while infringing upon the rights of private property owners. Homebuilders from Athens to Carroll County to Richmond Hill (have) told legislators how mandates are raising construction costs and reducing the affordability of work force housing as local governments insert unnecessary requirements into their construction plans.”
During the Georgia General Assembly’s 2019 Legislative Session, state Rep. Vance Smith and state Sen. John Wilkinson introduced identical bills designed to prohibit local governments from imposing design and materials restrictions on new single-family home construction outside the jurisdiction of the state’s building codes. House Bill 302 and Senate Bill 172 did not pass or fail and will be eligible for debate in the upcoming 2020 legislative session.
“Good government exists to protect its citizens from harm, not to make decisions about home designs at the expense of those pursuing the American Dream of home ownership,” Smith said. “The legislation does not suppress the ability of a local government to shape the look and feel of its community through zoning conditions or to ensure the safety of its residents through local amendments to the state building code. I believe it strikes the right balance between local control and the rights of our citizens, and I hope we can pass it into law next year.”
Smith also has been named chairman of the House Study Committee on Workforce Housing, which will study this issue.