Georgia City Sued Over Ban on Tiny Houses, Small Cottages

The government can force you to purchase a bigger and more costly house than you would like. This is the subject of a civil lawsuit brought by Calhoun Housing, Georgia. The suit concerns Calhoun’s minimum home-size requirements.

Tiny House Hand Up, Inc., (THHU), and Cindy Tucker, the executive director, have been working for affordable housing for Calhoun residents for the last several years. This has included building smaller houses which are less expensive to construct and that can be sold without subsidies to those with modest incomes. It is however frustrating that the city has made it a requirement for single-family residences to be less than 1150 square feet.

In the United States, minimum units sizes for apartments and single-family houses are common and are a key driver of high housing prices. The market is regulated to exclude those on lower incomes from it. Those who have the means can buy more property than they could otherwise.

Cities and states that have reformed their regulations to allow for smaller homes—including California’s legalization of accessory dwelling units and Houston’s minimum lot size reforms—have seen a wealth of new development.

These restrictions are still in place despite Tucker’s repeated discussions with city officials regarding Calhoun and his own minimal home size rules that are hindering THHU’s mission.

THHU’s request for a zoning change was also rejected by the city council earlier this month. The Cottages at King’s Corner project would have built six homes, with plans for an additional 40, on an 8-acre parcel of donated, vacant land.

Yesterday, THHU sued the city of Hong Kong and its members.

According to Georgia’s Constitution, zoning regulations must have a strong relationship with the public health and safety as well as general welfare. Joe Gay is an attorney at the Institute for Justice. He represents THHU and says that these minimum home sizes do not serve those purposes. Smaller homes are safer and healthier. Many people in America live in small homes. Even Calhoun has smaller homes built before the ban.

King’s Corner land, which THHU purchased from King’s Corner, was originally designated for industrial use. Gay points out that that would have made it possible for the nonprofit to create a scrap metal processing center, truck terminal, and other more significant developments with no issues.

Instead, THHU, Tucker and its director had hoped that several cottages with one and two bedrooms would be built on the property. The cottages would measure in at 540-600 square feet. They also have a kitchen, living area, and covered porch.

According to THHU, the sale price would be around $99,000 because of their smaller sizes. Their lawsuit says that the nonprofit has finished building plans, obtained financing from a local bank, and has contractors at ready—everything it needs to start work on King’s Corner. The city has to give permission.

These homes were too small for the city’s code of zoning, so THHU requested a variance in August 2021. At an October city council meeting, Tucker said that her planned cottages would meet a need left unmet by the larger, zoning-compliant housing being built by private developers and government-subsidized affordable housing providers like Habitat for Humanity.

Tucker stated that Tucker was not entitled to subsidized housing of any size, shape or form. Tucker stated that while we are not trying compete with anybody and were not trying not to put any pressure on them, there was a space where we believed we could fit in.

Some people were not as keen to see affordable housing in the area.

“If they build tiny, small houses in a neighborhood that has larger homes, my first thought is that they will. [be]Priced lower, it will bring everybody’s cost down,” stated one member.

A second woman believed that the potential for lower income people to purchase the King’s Corner cottages was a bug and not a feature.

“They are focused on low-income housing. When you think about low income how will they keep up? [like]”Trash pickup, this and that. But it isn’t going to create more problems and more riff raff. She said.

The city council ultimately rejected THHU’s variance request. The nonprofit was left with little choice but to sue.

Calhoun’s requirement for a minimum size home is in violation of the Due Process guarantee under the Georgia Constitution. This guarantees that zoning regulations must have a “substantial relation” to the welfare, health or safety of the public.

Gay says that the minimum home size does not meet this requirement. Gay points out that the building code of the city (indistinct to its zoning) has safety regulations for buildings. The King’s Corner development will be fully compliant with them. Calhoun already has a few homes that measure less than 1150 sq. feet. These properties have been grandfathered into the existing zoning code.

Gay says that the court-recognized power of governments to regulate the development of a city to reduce the negative externalities (potentially trafficked and dense) are not applicable because smaller cottages in THHU would result in less density and traffic than larger houses required by the zoning codes.

Gay explains that the fact that Gay believes the city could allow an industrial development at the same location “really unmasks the nature of these types of bans.” ReasonThis is.  The goal is to exclude people from communities who are unable or unwilling to pay more for a home.

Today, the Institute for Justice and THHU presented their lawsuits to the Superior Court of Gordon County. This will be reviewed and filed by a judge.