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'Kinda Tiny' homes could lead to 'second-tier' class

Dear Editor:

I appreciate Spencer Frye's efforts to create more affordable housing, but I think we have to tread very carefully when we try to reach affordability by simple reduction of dwelling size.

The average size of a home in the United States has doubled since the 1960s to 2,600 square feet, but there is a movement underway to embrace smaller, more energy efficient homes.

Menke’s house will be an example of a greener home, but it’s also meant to start a conversation in Athens about zoning codes, said Spencer Frye, executive director of Athens Area Habitat for Humanity. “You aren’t allowed to build an actual tiny home in Clarke County,” said Frye. “The minimum size for a single-family home is 600 square feet. These size restrictions were put in place in reaction to integration. I don’t like the idea of our community still adhering to these codes.”

It is important to avoid confusing zoning regulation with building codes. In GA building codes are adopted by the legislature, and are administered by state community affairs (DCA).

DCA has defined tiny homes in a guidance document issued with its annual adoption and amendment of statewide building codes. With very little effort those definitions are available online. Remember that enforcement is a function of every local governing body, which decides whether to enforce within its jurisdiction.

Obstacles to proliferation of tiny homes are usually in the arena of zoning regulations. Building codes can be regarded as technical, data-based regs. Zoning regs are almost 100% political, and more to do with property values and quality of life issues.

The assertion that dwelling size minimums were adopted as reaction to integration surely has some basis in fact, but it is not nearly the whole story. Minimum standards were also adopted in response to predatory developers who threw up substandard dwellings in low-income areas to sell or rent to those who could afford no better location or housing.

In my experience as an inspector I have seen a whole lot of substandard buildings. Minimum dwelling standards are mostly building code-based rules that primarily protect health and safety of occupants and communities.

Changes in zoning standards alone will not pave a way for tiny house boosters. Affordable housing, based on today’s costs per unit of area, offers almost no incentive to either builders or lenders, not to mention insurers and realtors.

Proliferation of tiny dwellings may well be a mixed blessing, and it may well help foster a lower, second-class tier of society.

Jim Baird

Comer. GA

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