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Commissioners oppose state bills targeting build-to-rent communities
FCN Forsyth County Administration Building

Forsyth County Commissioners recently approved a letter in opposition to two bills in the Georgia Legislation aimed at “preempting local governments from regulating build-to-rent communities” at a work session on Tuesday, Feb. 22.

According to County Attorney Ken Jarrard, House Bill 1093 and Senate Bill 494 would “thwart the county’s ability to make any regulations that affected [build to rent] subdivisions.”

Jarrard said that if Forsyth County were to write a letter in objection to the bills, “we would not be alone in doing this.”

“Other jurisdictions are also taking this position that we believe that these sorts of laws at the state level that go through the heart of our local land-use issues should remain a local issue,” Jarrard said. “And that’s what we would be asking for.”

Jarrard said that the non-binding resolution would state that cities and counties are uniquely qualified to represent their constituents and that it would be “an expression of the will of Forsyth County.”

Chairman Alfred John asked what might “potentially happen if these bills pass.”

“I will tell you that at least in one of the bills, the consequences are fairly dire,” Jarrard said. “Our sovereign immunity is waived; there’s even a built-in provision for damages of a lot of money against the county government.”

Jarrard acknowledged that build-to-rent communities are becoming increasingly popular. However, the communities are still “somewhat new.”

“[If the bills are passed, they would be] almost like apartments [in Forsyth County] but in a single-family detached form,” Jarrard said.

During discussion, District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson said that she wanted to make clear that the letter of opposition was “not directed at an individual’s ability to rent their home.”

District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper agreed, calling this issue “a different animal.”

District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said that she had watched a state public hearing about this issue, and she had found it “insulting” when “the supporters of [these bills were] trying to say that the counties that didn’t want [these bills passed] … they tried to make it be a racial issue and then they tried to make it be that it was counties that were against affordable housing.”

Mills said that during the meeting, prices of proposed rents for these communities were “[starting] at $2,800 [a month] and some went even higher.”

“And I’m thinking, I don’t know where y’all call that affordable,” Mills said. “I’m thinking, you hypocrites. You’re not going to rent to people that can’t afford it. [What] are you calling affordable housing? Who are you trying to hold out? You’re blaming that on counties, but … you’re not looking for affordable.”

John agreed that the bills seemed to be “a little bit of an overreach,” and said that each county in the state of Georgia should “be allowed to decide for themselves what’s good for their citizens and their residents.”

“I think the unknown consequence of this is also that it could have an impact on some of our local developers and builders,” John said. “I think they’ll get sold and outbid by some of these larger groups with deep pockets, and I don’t think that’s being considered.”

With all commissioners in agreeance, a motion was made to send a letter or other formal communication to local state delegation and the General Assembly voicing opposition to the bills. The motion carried with a unanimous vote, 5-0.