Government-imposed design requirements cost Georgia home buyers

By Guest Columnist AUSTIN HACKNEY, government affairs director, Home Builders Association of Georgia

For generations, home ownership has provided individuals and families with a path towards economic prosperity, and a strong residential construction industry is known as an indicator of a healthy economy.

Austin Hackney

However, recent restrictions and mandates enacted by some local jurisdictions are infringing on private property rights and adversely affecting home buyers, escalating the cost of new home purchases beyond the reach of some buyers, especially those interested in entry-level and workforce housing. These restrictions are “above and beyond” typical zoning ordinances and building codes, which are already in place to protect the safety of both the home builder and the home buyer.

In Georgia, local jurisdictions throughout the state have begun creating and enforcing residential design standards for new home construction, effectively creating a city or countywide homeowners association.

These restrictions range from requiring particular design techniques (like basements, porches or complex roof structures) to prohibiting certain building materials (like vinyl windows or vinyl siding). Regulations may include how windows are spaced, where garages are located, whether slabs must be elevated or even allowed, and other aesthetics of exterior design. They may require certain building materials, while prohibiting others. In most cases, the additional restrictions increase costs for the home buyer, according to the Home Builders Association of Georgia.

“We believe this new example of over-reaching big government hurts entry-level home buyers the most,” says HBAG President Jim Brown. “Local design mandates artificially increase the cost of new homes above what a healthy market can support. A builder or developer creates a product to respond to market demand – using licensed residential architects, landscape professionals and housing market experts to design a home that will be attractive to many home buyers. Unfortunately, these design mandates exist outside the realities of the housing market.”

Design standards imposed by local governments could add thousands of dollars to the price of new homes. Credit: Jim Chapman Communities

A recent study published by the National Association of Home Builders shows how raising the price of a new home by just $1,000 can “price-out” some home buyers, making them unable to purchase a new home. The median new home price in Georgia for 2019 is $318,739. Using standard underwriting criteria, a household income of $86,475 is required to buy this average house. For every $1,000 that median price increases, 5,783 more Georgians are unable to pursue the American Dream of home ownership. If government-mandated design requirements add $30,000 in cost to the price of a new home, then 173,490 hardworking Georgians who could have afforded to buy that house for their families are no longer able.

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute, reports:

  • “Local governments are stifling innovation, mandating aesthetics and materials, restricting designs and layouts, all while infringing upon the rights of private property owners. Home builders from Athens to Carrollton to Richmond Hill (have) told legislators how mandates are raising construction costs and reducing the affordability of workforce housing as local governments insert unnecessary requirements into their construction plans.”
HBAG, Smith, Wilkinson

State Rep. Vance Smith (left) and Sen. John Wilkinson have introduced legislation to prevent local governments from imposing standards on design and materials of single-family houses beyond measures contained in state building codes. Credit: legis.ga.gov

During the Georgia General Assembly’s 2019 legislative session, Rep. Vance Smith (R-Pine Mountain) and Sen. John Wilkinson (R-Tocca) introduced identical bills designed to prohibit local governments from imposing design and materials restrictions on new single-family home construction outside the jurisdiction of the state’s building codes House Bill 302 and Senate Bill 172 will be eligible for debate in the upcoming 2020 legislative session.

According to Smith, “Good government exists to protect its citizens from harm, not to make decisions about home designs at the expense of those pursuing the American D ream of home ownership. The legislation does not suppress the ability of a local government to shape the look and feel of its community through zoning conditions or to ensure the safety of its residents through local amendments to the state building code. I believe it strikes the right balance between local control and the rights of our citizens, and I hope we can pass it into law next year.”

HBAG, construction site

House prices tend to rise as local governments have imposed design standards such as the location of garages, use of vinyl siding and windows, and construction of porches. Credit: Jim Chapman Communitie

Recognizing the need in the state for more affordable workforce housing, Georgia’s House of Representatives adopted House Resolution 591, which created the House Study Committee on Workforce Housing. Committee members have been appointed by Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and include representatives Smith, as chair; James Beverly (D-Macon); John Corbett (R- Lake Park); and Tom McCall (R-Elberton).

HR 591 recognizes the need for workforce housing in Georgia and notes that the mandatory state building codes and local amendments to these codes provide clear direction to local officials, builders and the general public on the methods and materials required for the construction of safe and reliable structures.

The study committee will hold meetings around the state to discuss the affordability crisis for housing in Georgia, the impact of affordability on economic development, the role of government in housing, the rights of private property owners, and solutions for the future.

Note to Readers: As government affairs director for the Home Builders Association of Georgia, Austin Hackney represents a trade organization dedicated to creating, promoting and protecting an ongoing successful environment for affordable housing in order to benefit its members and the citizens of Georgia. The association is committed to offering opportunities for members to improve their abilities to conduct business with integrity, and encourages member involvement in assisting communities to meet the need for affordable, quality housing. Jim Brown, founder and president of JWB Properties, is the current president of HBAG.

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