By Sean Keenan
During the latter half of Georgia’s 2020 legislative session, it’s unclear whether a proposal that would create a statewide definition of the word “family” for housing purposes has the legs to make it to the governor’s desk by April 3, when the session ends.
House Bill 980, drafted by state Rep. Teri Anulewicz, the Smyrna Democrat, and backed by a bipartisan slate of House representatives, would “define the term “family” in relation to local governments exercising zoning powers or administering and enforcing building, housing, or property maintenance codes,” per the bill’s language.
If passed, the legislation would help further legitimize companies such as PadSplit, which helps people split up their single-family homes as rental properties.
Current laws have barred so-called rooming houses in single-family neighborhoods in Atlanta, so PadSplits are designed in a way that allows tenants to meet the city’s complex definition of a “single family” – “up to six unrelated people, plus another four, as long as the latter occupy no more than two rooms,” according to a report by Bloomberg.
If HB 980 is ratified, Georgia code would be amended to define the word “family” as:
- A single person, who may be an elderly person, disabled person, near-elderly person, or any other single person; or
- A group of persons residing together and such group includes, but is not limited to:
- A household with or without children, including a child who is temporarily away from the household because of placement in foster care;
- An elderly household;
- A near-elderly household;
- A disabled household; and
- The remaining members of a household
That language, as PadSplit CEO Atticus LeBlanc points out, would mirror the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of “family.”
Proponents of the cause have claimed the legislation “will keep local governments from unfairly limiting how many people can live in a house,” which would ultimately help reduce inequality, according to a petition recently launched by advocacy group Neighbors for More Neighbors of Metro Atlanta.
“The bill is bipartisan,” the petition page says. “Democrats like it because it helps reduce inequality. Republicans like it because it doesn’t cost public money.”
The organization also cites the current laws as “arbitrary” and “unfair” and claims that the current definition of “family” “criminalizes poverty.”
“For a lot of people — working people with poor credit or a past eviction — the choice is to split a house with other people or to be homeless,” the petition reads. “The law as it is today would prefer them to be homeless. There’s nothing about this bill that creates density because people are already living this way. They have no other choice.”
The supporters of HB 980 claim that the initiative could be derailed by a coalition of NIMBYs — people with a “not in my backyard” attitude — that oppose co-living and affordable housing, worrying it could decrease nearby property values.
Anulewicz did not immediately respond to SaportaReport’s inquiries regarding what hurdles still exist to get the bill through the Legislature, and this story will be updated as comments are provided.