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Dear Decaturish – Families in Decatur’s duplexes add as much to the fabric of our community as anyone else

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Dear Decaturish – Families in Decatur’s duplexes add as much to the fabric of our community as anyone else

The boundaries of the city of Decatur. Source: Google Maps

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Dear Decaturish,

In 2019, I served on the City of Decatur’s affordable housing taskforce, and for nine months volunteered with other residents of the city to learn about the city’s housing landscape and develop a set of recommendations around how the city could encourage more housing diversity.

In my time on the task force I came away with two overarching themes. One, that the City of Decatur’s former policymakers had, for a variety of reasons, ignored 12 years of affordable housing recommendations present in nearly every single planning document developed for both individual neighborhoods and for the city as a whole. In my view this lack of action was at least partially responsible for how shockingly unaffordable the city had become.

The second takeaway was that affordable single-family home ownership no longer existed in the City of Decatur. The only pathway to living in the city at any relatively affordable scale was rental housing. Full stop.

The recommendations developed by the taskforce were crafted in response to this reality, including the need to upzone so that more housing options could be made available for current and future residents. While the Decatur Housing Authority was doing (and continues to do) a commendable job developing housing options for the city’s lowest income residents, the market had clearly failed to provide options for anyone else except the highest income earners. By changing the zoning code to allow for duplexes, triplexes, and quads, the city was creating at least the possibility of market-based solutions for more housing diversity and affordability.

Lastly, on a personal note, I would like to point out that one of the comments from a previous planning commission meeting was made by a resident of Garden Lane. I also live on Garden Lane, and wish to echo those comments.  We have several existing duplexes and triplexes on our street. The families who live in them are our neighbors, and add as much to the fabric of our community as anyone else. Their children play with mine and attend school together. Their parents watch out for each other, and we all attend the same Halloween block party. Residents of our street’s rental units create no more traffic than homeowners do, add no more street parking than homeowners, and get just as annoyed if someone is playing music too loudly. What are we saying to our neighbors with a decision to reject this zoning change? How are they to interpret that decision other than the city looking down on them and their families, simply because of their homeownership status? Personally, that type of decision does not reflect the ethos of Decatur as I have known it, and I hope the City’s commissioners will consider these points as they weigh a decision on the zoning changes before them.


Jason Chernock

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