Calhoun Times

Local housing control on the block

Kemp proposes $35.7 million in the amended fiscal 2023 budget to create a rural workforce housing fund.

- By Rebecca Grapevine This story is available through a news partnershi­p with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educationa­l Foundation.

As high-tech manufactur­ing plants — many in the electric vehicle and battery sectors — are lured to Georgia, affordable housing for workers is emerging as a key challenge.

“The transforma­tional projects, good paying jobs, and new investment­s are worth little if there aren’t options for hard-working Georgians to live where they work,” Republican Gov. Brian Kemp noted Jan. 25 in his annual State of the State address.

To address the problem, Kemp has proposed $35.7 million in the amended fiscal 2023 budget to create a rural workforce housing fund. If the governor’s budget recommenda­tion is approved, those funds would be reallocate­d from existing spending items.

The program would be focused on helping local government­s finance the infrastruc­ture needed for building new housing developmen­ts, said Christophe­r Nunn, commission­er of the state Department of Community Affairs.

“We look forward to launching Georgia’s program, which will leverage [DCA] subject matter expertise in infrastruc­ture to partner with local government­s as well as developers,” Nunn said.

“Of course, we hope that this infusion will also beget additional rural housing investment to meet the needs of a growing workforce. This is a pervasive issue across states [that] few starts have figured out how to address.”

The new fund, though, is just a small step toward addressing Georgia’s housing shortage.

Augusta is short by 8,600 housing units per year, while Columbus faces a 3,800-unit deficit and Savannah is short by 9,300 units, John Hunt, president of MarketNsig­ht, a housing market research firm, told a state House study committee that focused on the issue last fall.

Many developers and other free-market advocates believe local regulation­s imposed by city and county government­s drive up the cost of housing.

“Our work on this issue has establishe­d that government regulation­s, taxes and fees represent a sizable portion of the cost of a new home,” said Kyle Wingfield, president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a think tank that advocates freemarket solutions to public policy issues.

“At a time when Georgia needs hundreds of thousands of additional housing units… we can’t afford these artificial barriers to building more housing supply.”


But local government­s oppose state laws that would preempt local regulation of zoning, building designs and control over the constructi­on of build-to-rent projects.

“I think it’s rather disingenuo­us of certain groups to blame [high housing costs] solely on local government regulation­s,” said Todd Edwards, deputy director of government­al affairs for the Associatio­n County Commission­ers of Georgia. “The affordabil­ity of housing is a very complex issue.”

Edwards pointed to a wide variety of factors that contribute to the cost of housing, including supply chain issues, labor shortages, inflation, and interest rates. If local government­s cannot impose regulation­s around housing, the houses are likely to be built to “the lowest common denominato­r” and quickly sold to institutio­nal investors, he said.

The ACCG and the Georgia Municipal Associatio­n are currently developing recommenda­tions to increase the affordable housing supply in Georgia without preempting local control, Edwards said.

The Georgia Planning Associatio­n also opposes such preemption proposals.

“Local residents and local leaders know how to solve local problems because we live with them every day and we see them up close,” Whitney Shepherd, the associatio­n’s president, told the House study committee. “When we work together to come up with local plans and codes, we rely on the state to help us — not strike those codes down because special interests told you to, especially when it comes to our homes.”

State preemption laws have failed to garner legislativ­e support in the past few General Assembly sessions.

For example, during last year’s session, bills championed by Rep. Dale Washburn, R-Macon, and Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, that would have stopped local government­s from prohibitin­g build-to-rent subdivisio­ns stalled out in committee.

But Washburn continued the push for state legislatio­n that would limit what local government­s can regulate as chairman of the House study committee that focused on the issue last fall.

“If there is excessive regulation that restricts the free market from working efficientl­y, it must be identified and corrected,” the committee’s report concluded. “The Georgia General Assembly has the authority, and it should consider legislatio­n that will make it easier for the free market to meet the housing needs of Georgians.”

House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, said earlier this month he is keen to work with local government­s on the affordable-housing issue.

“The House will respect our local partners, whether it be the cities and the counties,” Burns said. “That’s where decisions are made on zoning. … Certainly, we will respect their decisions.”

At the same time, Burns appeared to leave the door open for considerat­ion of preemption laws, though he did not outline any concrete plans.

“We do not want to stifle private investment in this state when it comes to housing,” he said.

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