In a recent report from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Chris Denson and J. Thomas Perdue compile the strictest minimum lot size regulations and minimum home size regulations from a range of cities and counties in Georgia. 31 of Georgia’s 159 counties mandate minimum lot sizes (in unincorporated land, on some districts) larger than 1 acre, with minimums as high as 5 acres in two southwestern Georgia counties. Charting local zoning in America is no small task, and Denson and Perdue give a valuable snapshot of one of its facets in a big and growing state.
Georgia is not known for onerous regulation of homebuilding – when I volunteered with Abundant Housing LA, a fellow volunteer who’d moved from Georgia would shame liberal NIMBYs by saying how much easier it was to get apartments permitted in her conservative home state – but like much of the US, Georgia’s home construction has failed to meet the growing demand. Denson and Perdue spotlight one specific regulatory tool more typical of Georgia than elsewhere: minimum home size regulations (as distinct from minimum lot size regulations, which are ubiquitous nationwide). Denson and Perdue show that Georgia counties and county seats often require minimum home sizes far in excess of American Society of Planning Officials benchmarks, and point out this drives up housing costs significantly. Below is a map (made in ArcGIS by my colleague Micah Perry) of Denson and Perdue’s data on county government minimum home sizes, showing the highest minimum in any zone on unincorporated land for counties for which data was available:
The clear lesson from Georgia’s surprisingly strict regulations is that policymakers in growing Sun Belt cities and states shouldn’t delude themselves: the crises afflicting coastal “superstar” cities are coming for them too if they don’t liberalize land use laws. Austin is now undertaking serious reform after arguably crossing over into “exclusionary superstar city” territory. Atlanta has so far kept ahead of this problem, staying relatively affordable, but the kinds of regulations Denson and Perdue list in this review risk becoming a bigger problem as the metropolitan area grows.