Let’s Talk Policy

On October 12, I testified to the House Study Committee on Regulation, Affordability and Access to Housing. The committee is exploring a range of preemption policies that could undermine local jurisdictions’ ability to enact zoning, residential design standards, regulation of build to rent subdivisions, and other topics. The Georgia Chamber has published a report citing regulations as adding 26.9% to the cost of a new single family home. While the report’s methodology is under question, and we know labor, land, materials, and financing are increasingly driving the cost of housing, the overall message is memorable. And our job is to bring reason into the deliberation.

Here’s what we need to do even before we see the bill
  1. Make sure your local municipalities respond to the GMA survey about the committee’s work. GMA requests one response per city by Monday, October 24 at 5:00 pm.
  2. Have a conversation with your city council, country commission, and with your local chamber. GPA stands with APA in support of home rule. Many of us are working to promote housing affordability and accessibility and have made progress in recent years. Now is not the time for the state to undermine that progress. Ask local officials to reach out to State Senators and House members both to educate them about the committee and its direction as well as potential impacts. Feel free to share local stories about housing policy as appropriate.
Here are a few reasons why we’re concerned about unintended consequences and preemption of home rule
  1. Housing is a complex issue. We need a large toolbox to address the issue, and planning provides solutions through zoning reform. APA provides a wealth of guidance and other states offer best practices that we can learn from. Michigan has a fantastic toolkit. GPA members across the state are working to right-size regulations to promote housing supply. We know that many zoning codes are out-of-date because they were written for the housing market 60-75 years ago. That doesn’t mean we don’t need the basic protections to the public’s health, safety, and general welfare that zoning provides.
  2. Like our elected officials, planners work to serve the public interest. We should partner to address the housing deficit in Georgia. Local policy serves many purposes: to protect low income owners and renters from low quality construction and predatory landlords; to promote a lower lifetime housing cost through reduced repair, maintenance, and utility bills; to promote family wealth through sound investments available in quality homes; to protect residents from moving into housing next to incompatible land uses like industry with noise, air quality, and traffic burdens.
  3. Planning, local codes, and standards promote economic development and protect home values. Here in Savannah, our tourism industry thrives because of our unique sense of place – which relies on protections from a range of local policies. For many of America’s families, our homes are our most significant investment and asset. Home values rely on neighborhood context and comps that should be protected by transparent and fair codes. Businesses will invest in a community that has high quality housing and plans to protect the housing stock.
  4. Home rule matters. We support home rule and the rights of local citizens to enact and administer local governance in support of their adopted comprehensive plans, long-term vision, and the desired character of their built environment. Our local representatives know what’s best for their towns and cities. But special interests are looking to undermine that progress across the nation. To address the housing crisis, we should be listening to communities – not corporations.
  5. Context matters. “One-size-fits-all” standards do not recognize our unique communities across Georgia. Historic towns, coastal communities, urban centers, small rural towns,  all have different needs. Uniform standards will change the character of our best neighborhoods over time. Furthermore, local codes don’t just protect housing character and aesthetics, but also to promote safety and resilience to extreme weather. Roof design, materials, and building placement all matter to public safety. The General Assembly should provide a foundation to build on – basic protections so everyone is treated fairly. Local governments should have the ability to strengthen those protections based on what they know about their communities.

Thank you!

Whitney Shephard, PE, LEED AP
President, Georgia Planning Association