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Dear Decaturish – Decatur shot itself in the foot on affordable housing issue

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Dear Decaturish – Decatur shot itself in the foot on affordable housing issue

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Decatur City Hall.

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Dear Decaturish,

So, the city is re-energizing their affordable housing initiative, “going deep,” while lamenting their inability to make any progress. The city’s gunning for our neighborhoods, looks to me like they’re about to shoot themselves (or us) in the feet…. Yet again.

The city of Decatur restructured the Unified Development Ordinance in 2015 in order to enable homeowners to build Accessory Dwelling Units (Think garage apartment or cottage). The city endorses and promotes these units on the city’s ADU webpage as “the missing middle.”

“As a housing option, ADUs demonstrate the values of inclusivity, diversity, and affordability promoted by the city of Decatur,” the city’s website says.

Our neighbor was the first to build an ADU under these new guidelines.This unit should have been the poster child for the city’s affordable housing initiative. What we got instead was a high-volume, short-term rental. We got a motel. We got the commercialization of single-family residential zoning.

It is immoral that the city frames the use of these units as a moral imperative, yet provides no regulations regarding their use, and then allows them to be used as short-term rentals. No permit is required. No zoning hearing is required. No business license is required. No liability insurance is required. No collection of sales tax or hotel excise tax is required.There is a reason short-term rental platforms keep users data and addresses secret: No Accountability, and No Regulations give ADU short-term rentals a major competitive advantage.

In Decatur, because of the ADU default, commercial-spot zoning is allowed in single-family residential districts. The city of Decatur does not maintain the integrity of our zoning laws, and there is nothing you can do about it. If you are enjoying single-family residential zoning, it is only due to the moral integrity of your neighbor.

Short-term rentals kill affordable housing. They remove housing units from the long-term housing pool, and raise existing rents, thus making it even less affordable to live in the city.

According to the New York City Comptroller, short-term rentals have increased the cost of long-term rentals by $16 million in 2016. A 2018 study by David Wachsmuth at the McGill University School of Urban Planning showed that one web-based short-term rental platform alone was responsible for a 1.4 percent increase in rents between 2014 and 2017. This same platform caused the city to lose between 7,000 and 13,500 long-term housing units in the same period. All of those impacts were more likely to impact black residents.

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What is your vision for our city? Is it steak or chicken? (Kale or iceberg?) Are you for affordable housing? Now, is the time for you to make a choice. It is just not enough to have voted for Stacey Abrams. You have to make a stand for your values and morals every day. Others stand ready to fill the void, and they will. Left unregulated, the affordable housing void will be filled with high-volume short-term rentals.

The city’s Affordable Housing Task Force will be meaningless, smoke and mirrors, a political stunt, unless the city looks back and corrects their failures on existing developmental guidelines. Affordable housing is very likely already dead in single-family residential zoning because the city failed to regulate use of ADUs in 2015.

A new game is coming to town. Act now, or get caught sleeping. Build or re-purpose your existing ADU and use it for short-term rentals, while giving the middle finger to your neighbor, your Au Pair, COD employees and afterschool counselors that teach and watch over your kids, college students, your store clerk, your server… or demand regulations on use. Demand regulations on use. Demand the integrity of your zoning regulations.

–  Kraig Seichrist

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