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Creating middle housing in DeKalb County

The Cottages on Vaughan. (Image provided by the MicroLife Institute.)

By Guest Columnist TED TERRY, DeKalb County District 6 Commissioner.

No matter where you live, someone in your neighborhood feels the housing crunch. It could be the single mother of two down the street, the teacher living on a modest income struggling to live near where they teach or an empty-nester grappling with feelings of isolation –– the effects of the housing crisis are far-reaching and impact every part of our community. 

As a Commissioner, I’ve heard firsthand from my constituents –– people searching for a stable, affordable place to call home, one that promotes community, nudges us off our screens and reconnects us with our neighbors.  

As elected leaders, we are responsible for listening to our constituents and exploring innovative solutions to address their challenges. That’s why I’m working with the MicroLife Institute to update DeKalb County’s Cottage Court Ordinance and take a significant step toward creating vital missing middle housing that also encourages integrated, vibrant neighborhoods that bring people together. 

DeKalb County District 6 Commissioner Ted Terry.

Updating DeKalb’s Cottage Court Ordinance, also known as a Pocket Neighborhood Policy, will allow us to increase housing options in a way that limits sprawl, preserves the character of existing neighborhoods, and importantly, creates opportunities for people to connect and build a web of belonging, care and support. Something as simple as allowing new single-family homes to be built under 2,000 square feet –– smaller homes promote affordability, community and flexibility –– allows more of this missing middle housing. 

The good news is this isn’t some untested theory –– we already know allowing cottage courts is good policy because we did it in Clarkston in 2018 when, while I was serving as mayor, we passed a version of this ordinance and brought the Cottages on Vaughan, an eight-home micro cottage community built on just a half acre of land, to life. Within days of the project’s announcement, more than 1,500 people joined the waiting list. 

Since then, the development has won the Atlanta Regional Commission’s 2021 Regional Excellence Awards for Innovative Development and is a finalist for the Urban Land Institute’s 2022 Innovative Housing Award. At their monthly free tours, the cottage community continues to draw hundreds of people from across Georgia who are searching for a place like it to call home. 

The Cottages on Vaughan demonstrate that with sound housing policy, we can create vital missing middle housing and we can do it in a sustainable way, strategically placed near transit, job centers, schools and other public amenities, while still honoring the character of the neighborhoods. 

As our housing crisis deepens, we must examine our outdated zoning codes and create policies that work. Cottage courts work. Let’s expand and update DeKalb County’s ordinance and welcome more neighbors into our community. 

Would you like to write a guest column for SaportaReport? The SR team strives to uplift and amplify the diverse perspectives in our community, and we want to hear from you! Email Editor Derek Prall to discuss the specifics.

3 Comments

  1. Fred August 10, 2022 2:39 pm

    The cottages are hardly an affordable solution with, according to county records, 2 selling for more than $200,00. A large sum for 617 sq ft. of living space. This equates to $324/Sq Ft. The loft in the units is nice but a difficult climb for some, especially in the middle of the night.

    Let’s look at any proposal for changes to our zoning closely, and not rely on awards and exaggeration to determine the path forward.Report

    Reply
    1. Jeff August 16, 2022 12:28 pm

      Amen, brother! Especially when there are solutions that are being used, and shown to actually work, in other places. Don’t get me wrong: I think allowing “Cottage Courts” is a fine idea, but relying on them to make significant progress toward affordable housing is just stupid.Report

      Reply
  2. Jeff August 16, 2022 12:22 pm

    Places that are serious about creating affordable housing remove bans on multi-family housing. Period. There is not a single neighborhood in DeKalb where multi-family housing, of an appropriate size and character for the neighborhood, would be a detriment. Universally allowing ADU’s (additional dwelling units, i.e., adding a “tiny house” in the yard of an existing house) is also an obvious step. Tiny homes are available from Home Depot, Lowe’s and Amazon for less than $50k. How many hundreds of people would put one in their back (or side) yard if it were allowed? The problem with this solution is that it won’t make developers rich, so it’s very hard to get politicians behind it.

    Creating a VERY limited number of (as already mentioned) fabulously-expensive per square foot homes will certainly benefit developers, some existing homeowners, and the VERY few people who are able to afford them, not able to afford a larger place, and lucky enough to win the lottery or whatever other method they use to sell a very few houses to very many customers.

    Cottage courts are like a lot of modern political solutions to real problems: they do VERY little to fix the problem, while letting people feel good that they’re “part of the solution,” and making a few people rich. Exactly how little good did it actually do at Vaughan? They had a waiting list 1,500 long in a few days for 8 houses! The Georgia lottery gives MUCH better odds of winning. We would need 200 such developments just to accommodate the people who signed up in a few days for these overpriced tiny houses. Though I expect that many who signed up would discover they couldn’t afford the inflated prices.Report

    Reply

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