Georgia Nonprofit Challenges Calhoun’s Ban on Building Small Homes

Institute for Justice · October 27, 2021

CALHOUN, Ga.—Your home is your castle. But in cities and towns throughout Georgia, the kind of home you are allowed to buy is limited not just by the price tag but by something unexpected: the government. Tiny House Hand Up (THHU), a Calhoun nonprofit that wants to use donated land to fill a niche for smaller, less costly homes, has been blocked by the town despite demand for these homes. Why? Not because the proposed homes fail any health or safety standard, but simply because they are smaller than the government wants. Yesterday, Tiny House Hand Up, represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), submitted a lawsuit to the Superior Court for Gordon County challenging Calhoun’s arbitrary restriction for violating the Georgia Constitution.

“There is no health or safety reason to ban smaller homes,” said IJ Senior Attorney Erica Smith Ewing. “People around the country live in smaller homes without any issues, even in Calhoun in homes built before the ban.”

Homeownership is financially unfeasible for too many in Calhoun, with a poverty rate more than twice the national average. A few years ago, Cindy Tucker grew tired of talking about the problem and decided to act. She is the executive director of THHU, which was formed to fill an unmet need in the housing market.

The Georgia nonprofit is ready to break ground on the “Cottages at King Corner,” a community of beautiful, Southern-style cottages with 540 to 600 square feet of living space each. They have housing plans, support from a financial institution to help finance mortgages, and contractors at the ready. All they need is for the government to get out of the way.

“We know that the market is there. We know that people are interested in purchasing these homes,” said Cindy. “I don’t care if it’s one percent, if we can help that one percent, we need to do that.”

Calhoun is not alone among Georgia cities with unreasonably high square footage requirements. Marietta and College Park, for example, have square footage minimums for single-family homes of 1,200 and 1,600 square feet respectively. Their median housing prices have risen 14.6% and 55% from September 2020 to September 2021.

“People have different reasons for wanting to live in a smaller house, from downsizing and simplicity to affordability,” said IJ Attorney Joe Gay. “Calhoun shouldn’t make these personal choices illegal.”

The lawsuit will challenge Calhoun’s ban for violating the Due Process Clause of the Georgia Constitution; under the Due Process Clause, zoning restrictions that limit the use of private property are only permissible if they bear a substantial relation to public health, safety or general welfare. Banning beautiful homes just because they are small serves none of these purposes.

THHU is also represented by Atlanta attorney Aaron Block, who, like IJ, is providing his services pro bono. Aaron serves as local counsel in this case.

IJ has successfully challenged arbitrary laws that prohibit people from using their property in ways that people have always used their property: to grow vegetables on their front lawn, to run small home businesses, and to bake and sell food from a home kitchen. Government busybodies increasingly want to dictate not only what you may do on your property, but also what kind of home you are allowed to live in. IJ stands ready to continue to help property owners fight these increasingly intrusive and irrational regulations.

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