Calhoun resident Kevin Casey is a recent widower who would love to downsize and relocate to what is popularly known as a tiny home.
For a variety of reasons, including high interest rates, Casey cannot.
The primary obstacle is the City of Calhoun’s regulations. The city government bans the construction of new homes less than 1,150 square feet.
Tiny homes typically take up between 100 to 400 square feet. Casey and other Calhoun residents, however, want to construct something slightly larger, around 550 to 600 square feet.
“I have nothing,” Casey said, adding he doesn’t need his current four-bedroom and two-bathroom house.
“It’s just me and my dog.”
A tiny home typically costs between $30,000 to $60,000, according to Rocket Mortgage.
Casey said more people are moving to Calhoun and surrounding areas due to all of the economic development, and today’s ease of working from home. Calhoun is in Gordon County, which sits roughly halfway between Atlanta and Chattanooga.
Gordon County Administrator Jim Ledbetter said earlier this year that his county is one of Georgia’s fastest growing. Gordon’s warehousing industry has flourished in recent years. Ledbetter also noted that the county currently has an unemployment rate of 2% or less.
Gordon County’s U.S. Census recorded 55,186 residents in 2010. By 2020, that number increased to 58,954.
Oh yeah, and in case you didn’t already know, a new Buc-ee’s opened in Calhoun in the summer of 2021.
Tiny homes, Casey said, are ideal not only for his demographic but also for young people who haven’t started families yet.
Whether to buy a tiny home is a matter of consumer choice. Tiny homes, for instance, create opportunities for anyone who doesn’t necessarily want a larger home.
The Institute of Justice (IJ) recently filed a lawsuit against the city that challenges Calhoun’s ban on tiny homes.
IJ attorney Joe Gay said tiny homes are popular due to affordability. Also, cable television programs have highlighted the benefits of living in one.
“If you look at the history of Georgia, you’ll see that people have always lived in tiny homes,” Gay said.
“It was only in more recent history where homes got larger and very recent history when some local governments started requiring homes to be larger under the law.”
THE CITY’S CONCERNS
Casey serves on the board of directors for a grassroots group called Tiny House Hand Up (THHU).
Members of the organization want to break ground on what they call the “Cottages at King Corner” at the corner of Beamer Road and Harris Beamer Road. The land was donated.
THHU members said they have housing plans and support from a financial institution to help finance mortgages and contractors at the ready.
Members want the government out of the way. They describe their proposed venture as a market solution to unaffordable housing; smaller homes cost less to build.
THHU plans to construct 40 or more tiny homes on that property, Casey said.
Calhoun Mayor James Palmer, however, says it’s likely THHU will bundle those houses close together and create a fire hazard.
“If a fire started there then it could spread rapidly and quickly,” Palmer said.
Upon hearing that, Casey said he’s never heard the mayor or any other city official make that claim.
“I like Jimmy, but he’s just grasping at straws,” Casey said.
Take a drive through Calhoun. You will see more than a few apartments— which contain units that are traditionally close together. Palmer said builders are planning or constructing additional apartment complexes in addition to townhouses.
If apartments and townhouses are bundled close together then, going by what Palmer said, do they also not pose a fire hazard?
“I can see your point,” Palmer said.
“The fire department looks at those things. We have a fire inspector that goes through those. He could probably answer your questions better than I could as far as the fire hazard part of it.”
Palmer referred all additional questions to Fire Inspector BJ McMahan, City Administrator Paul Worley and City Attorney George Govignon.
McMahan and Worley declined to comment.
WHAT IS A TINY HOME ANYWAY, AND DOES IT EVEN MATTER?
Govignon said the city government does not oppose alternate forms of housing.
“The question concerns what a tiny home is,” Govignon said.
“I understand the International Building Code has had issues going back and forth on this issue.”
The 2021 International Residential Code defines a tiny house as a dwelling that is 400 square feet or less in floor area.
Again, THHU members want to construct tiny homes that take up 550 to 600 square feet.
Govignon said THHU’s plan is problematic for additional reasons.
“They filed this application, and it wasn’t detailed enough for us to know exactly what was being planned,” Govignon said.
“There were outspoken objections from property owners across the street and some other developers in the community.”
Govignon did not elaborate.
Gay said he and his colleagues at IJ have yet to discover a good reason for the city ordinance banning the construction of new homes less than 1,150 square feet.
“That is why we brought this lawsuit,” Gay said.
“Zoning restrictions are supposed to have some sort of substantial relationship to public health, safety or welfare. We don’t think this serves any purpose whatsoever other than an effort to exclude people of more modest incomes from living in certain neighborhoods.”
IS THIS THE REAL REASON FOR THE ORDINANCE?
According to IJ, the city government was willing to let THHU build a truck terminal, warehouse, or scrap metal processing center in the same place.
“The only reason to ban smaller homes is to exclude so-called ‘undesirable’ people who could afford to buy them and to artificially inflate property values in Calhoun by forcing people to build unnecessarily large homes,” IJ said.
Casey said a typical three-to-four-bedroom house in the area costs between $250,000 to $400,000.
“No one can touch a house for $200,000 in Gordon County,” Casey said.
“Let’s amend that to where we have a special amendment to where we can permit tiny homes in a tiny home community, per se. The city can make tons of revenue off taxes from that.”
According to the most recent U.S. Census, Calhoun has a median household income of $43,549. Exactly 34% of residents live in poverty.
“It comes down to the almighty dollar. With the median household income being what it is, how do you afford a house here?” Casey said.