ATLANTA — Local governments should ease harsh residential zoning restrictions, remove unnecessary “aesthetic” building requirements and encourage innovation in construction technology, a legislative committee recommended this week.
The House Study Committee on Workforce Housing was formed after legislation prohibiting cities and counties from regulating building standards for one- or two-family houses failed to get through the Georgia House of Representatives during this year’s legislative session.
Imposing strict requirements on residential construction drives up housing costs, pricing out workers the state needs for the new jobs businesses are creating, said Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, the committee’s chairman.
“Our state has done a great job attracting businesses,” he said. “(But) the more people and businesses we bring, the more places they need to live.”
“We’re missing the middle of the market, your teachers, first responders and police officers,” added Rep. John Corbett, R-Lake Park, another committee member.
A bill Smith sponsored cleared the House Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee last March but failed to reach the floor for a vote. It ran into stiff opposition from advocates for local governments who saw the measure as an attempt by the state to usurp powers that should belong to cities and counties.
“It strikes at the heart of home rule,” said Todd Edwards, deputy legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia. “Under the (state) Constitution, zoning and land use decisions are left for local government. That’s what (local officials) are elected for and held accountable for.”
The study committee added a fourth recommendation during Thursday’s meeting. At the urging of Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the panel suggested extending a low-income tax credit now provided only for construction of multifamily housing to single-family homes.
“There’s a big market out there where people don’t necessarily want to be in a multifamily environment,” Beverly said. “(Tax credits) would drive down costs for the developers.”
Only about one-third of Georgia’s 159 counties have residential construction design standards on their books. Opposition to strict standards aimed at limiting neighborhoods to expensive, high-end homes has surfaced primarily in Forsyth and Oconee counties, Edwards said.
“To make statewide policy on the basis of two counties is not good public policy,” he said.
Short of passing legislation regulating building standards, the state could do more to raise public awareness of current efforts to promote affordable housing in Georgia, Smith said.
The committee’s report noted eight programs exist across the state aimed at helping Georgians become homeowners.
“We have to point the finger at ourselves,” Smith said. “Have we done our job as a state to advertise what’s there that people can apply for? We need more advertising.”