City Managers Share: Trends in Community Housing

February 15, 2021

COVID-19 Has Impacted Nearly Every Aspect of Life, and housing stability has been no exception. According to the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), the biggest challenges that have persisted through the pandemic are:

  • Evictions, expected to increase greatly if/when the CDC eviction ban ends, unless rental assistance is provided
  • Rising home prices, further widening the economic and racial gaps in home ownership
  • Rising rents, outpacing wage growth for many

In 2019, the Metro Atlanta Housing Strategy identified housing instability as one of six housing priorities for the region. Unfortunately, people of color and existing vulnerable populations are being hit the hardest, continuing to widen the economic gap within the region and the state. Experts believe this will have lasting ripple effects for generations.

ARC has concentrated on providing the tools and information to keep people in their homes, including identifying the most vulnerable families through the Eviction Tracker tool and other data analysis. ARC has also led and supported the Save Our Atlanta Residents (SOAR) project, which aims to keep tens of thousands of metro Atlantans threatened with displacement housed by raising funds to support an equity fund for eviction prevention and rental assistance.

Georgia’s Cities caught up with two city managers — Bryan Lackey of Gainesville and Billy Peppers of Canton — to get their insights on community trends in housing, and the challenges their cities are facing to ensure quality housing stock and regulation of short-term rental properties.

GC: As you know, we face legislative proposals each session of the Georgia General Assembly that would preempt cities’ ability to regulate short-term rental properties. Can you tell us about the current state of short-term rentals in your community and how your ordinance has helped regulate them?

Bryan Lackey
Bryan Lackey, Gainesville City Manager

BL: Gainesville has been evaluating how to best address this for our city. Hall County has already taken this on, primarily to address rental homes on Lake Lanier. To show how this issue is different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, Gainesville does not have that many lake home rentals. Our concern is on short-term rentals in established single-family neighborhoods. This demonstrates that this problem is very different even among adjacent jurisdictions. For that reason, the state should leave this for each community to address rather than trying to apply a one size fits all state-wide solution.

Billy Peppers
Billy Peppers, Canton City Manager

BP: Canton has seen a growth in rental properties over the past two decades, including properties in larger neighborhoods. To boost household income, some residents are turning to short-term rental opportunities. We currently do not regulate these as a city but expect to have rules propagated in 2021.

GC: GMA’s membership is interested in pursuing legislation that would grant cities greater ability to inspect rental properties. How would this impact quality housing in your city?

BL: Gainesville has already seen that it does have a tremendous positive impact on the quality of our housing stock. A few years ago, we took this on using the International Property Maintenance Code to inspect both the exterior of the house, along with the interior with the permission of the renter and our municipal court judge. We used these inspections, and the violations they identified, to work with our solicitor and judge to address these with the landlord. In almost every case, we were able to gain compliance rather than an adjudication of the situation. We saw great success in improving the quality of the existing housing stock without a large number of displacements due to any type of noticeable increase in rents.

BP: Before you check into a hotel, you expect that someone has inspected the room to make sure it is clean, that the elevator is functioning properly, that fire codes are met, that the property is safe and secure. Why do we expect less for our residents renting a single-family home? The inability of communities to build rental property registries, create inspection protocols between tenancies and to assure safety for the tenant and neighboring properties is absurd. Georgia will only be able to tackle issues of human trafficking, child welfare, and human rights when local governments retain the authority to keep residential properties safe, well-functioning as rental units and clean of potential criminal activity. If the home next to yours was consistently churning from tenant to tenant, wouldn’t you at least want to know it was safe?

GC: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Canton’s housing security?

BP: As a growing city in a high-demand market, Canton’s housing demand continues to increase. We expect to issue close to 400 new single-family building permits in 2020, with around 75% being new single-family detached properties and the remaining 25% being townhomes. New growth,

lack of available resale product, and quality of life drivers (excellent schools, home value for metro Atlanta, access to healthcare, location and low taxes) continue to increase our population. We do see housing security issues for our transitional residents. Housing prices, cost of apartment living, and low wage jobs create issues in securing workforce affordable housing. The city of Canton launched a citywide housing study in March that is in its final preparation as we speak. It has identified potential projects throughout our city including mix-value projects, tiny home options, and incentives for affordable housing.

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2021 edition of Georgia’s Cities magazine.

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