We are so thankful for the opportunity to share our thoughts on housing challenges facing communities across the state and nation. Georgia Power did a great job bringing people in from across the state to listen to a range of thoughts and ideas. Housing challenges are present in both the largest cities and the smallest towns. At first glance, the housing challenges faced by these communities seems exceedingly unique. Rather than focusing on the differences, however, we see the commonality between each community’s individual struggles.
Places are ecosystems that function at the scale of a neighborhood. When we begin thinking this way, a small town can function and represent one neighborhood. Larger cities become collections of neighborhoods – this is how we see Atlanta. The majority of our work also tends to be in places needing assistance and repair. By breaking down larger communities into the unit of a neighborhood, we can apply solutions we would originally use for a small town to a struggling intown community.
The predominant common challenge we see across all these neighborhoods is the scourge of single-family zoning. Places near your walkable downtown/neighborhood commercial nodes need more housing choices close by to support them. These nodes also need more housing on a per acre basis than single-family only zoning can provide. It is important for zoning to reflect the needs of our neighborhoods rather than working against them. Accomplishing this can seem like a daunting task for a city to sort out. However, if you want more housing choice, making it legal is imperative.
Updating a zoning ordinance is a challenging task under the best of circumstance. To that end, we recommend taking an incremental approach to improvements by focusing on targeted areas. One of the best points we heard at Georgia Power’s event is the importance of knowing your place and the data related to it. How many existing non-conforming accessory dwelling units, how many duplexes, how many fourplexes exist in your town? Where are they? We expect these places exist in some of the original residential neighborhoods directly nearby your Main Street. When working through zoning reform, these are the best neighborhoods to start with. It also sends a far more helpful message if you are saying you are just trying to legalize the great, older housing stock already present in these places.
We are currently working with Lagrange, GA on an overhaul of the Unified Development Ordinance. A piece of this overhaul, the Traditional Neighborhood Overlay District, can be exported and applied to other cities around the state (and nation) for a more strategic solution to fixing various housing challenges. A lesser, yet still effective, option would be to rework rules limiting accessory dwelling units. Reducing the brain damage of a tactical zoning update gets us excited because we know how hard it can be to overhaul zoning and how critical it is for neighborhood revitalization.
Getting the rules right is a critical step, but it does not guarantee folks are going to show up at your doorstep to build housing. Smaller scale infill typically needs to be done by trained local folks, as opposed to the big developer from out of town. To that end, we work continuously with the Incremental Development Alliance on these training programs so we can help people build better neighborhoods.
If you’re from an ECG or Municipal Gas Authority (MGAG), we are going to be taking a much deeper dive into these issues on March 26th with ECG. Please see this link for more details on the event.