“Tiny houses” allowed under a new zoning rule could provide Buckhead with much-needed affordable housing, some neighborhood leaders say, though there also concerns about potential use as short-term rentals.

The Atlanta City Council took a step toward embracing “tiny houses” – an affordable housing tactic — at its May 1 meeting by approving an ordinance that allows “accessory dwelling units” in areas zoned R-5 for duplexes.”

That means a house 750 square feet or less can be built alongside an existing single-family house. The ordinance prevents subdividing the lot to give the tiny home its own lot. The zoning previously required that a second house on a property be much larger.

The R-5 zoning district is more prevalent in other areas of the city like Grant Park and Old Fourth Ward, but there are some neighborhoods in Buckhead with the zoning, including Pine Hills and Peachtree Park.

The zoning chair of NPU-B, Bill Murray, said this could be an important affordable housing option for older residents who want to downsize.

“This city is going to have a problem with aging baby boomers and this is a solution,” Murray said.

Tiny houses are seen as a way to combat high rental prices and provide affordable housing in the city, where rents are too high for many, Councilmember Kwanza Hall, who proposed the ordinance, said in a press release.

“We have gotten really good at building large, single-family homes and luxury apartments, and as a result the cost of living has gone up dramatically over the last several years,” Hall, who represents Midtown and Downtown Atlanta, said in the release.

Tiny houses have become popular in recent years, with cities in such states as Oregon and California passing ordinances to allow them, and home improvement channels filming shows about them.

Seeing tiny houses in other placing in the country and the filming of a show in Atlanta were two of the reasons Hall became interested in them, said Colleen Kiernan, Hall’s policy director.

“Embracing the tiny house movement in Atlanta will help expand the diversity of our housing choices and provide more affordable housing options,” Hall said in the release.

A particular problem for Buckhead is affordable housing for the many service and retail workers employed at the stores in the affluent community, and this ordinance could help them, said Councilmember Andre Dickens, who holds the post 3 At-Large seat.

However, some neighborhood residents are concerned this will exacerbate problems with short-term rental service Airbnb.

Jason Kendall, the Peachtree Park neighborhood representative for NPU-B, said at an April 4 meeting when the ordinance came before the NPU that his neighborhood has problems with residents renting out their house on Airbnb already and he is afraid the ordinance would be abused and make the problem worse.

Dickens said while concerns about Airbnb rentals haven’t been sent to his office, more regulations may be needed if accessory dwelling units are used for that.

“We want Atlantans to benefit from this, not people just visiting the city,” Dickens said.
Nancy Bliwise, who represents Pine Hills, said the smaller houses may offer some families the opportunity to live in a desirable school district they otherwise could not afford.

NPU-B recommended approving the ordinance prior to the city vote.

The number of people driving in to the city for work from the suburbs may decrease because of this ordinance, said Kiernan.

The zoning district this ordinance affects, R-5, follows MARTA rail lines, making it easier for people who could previously only afford to live in the suburbs, out of MARTA’s reach, to start taking mass transit to work.

The accessory dwelling units are geared partly toward millennials. An overview on the ordinance by the Department of City Planning says micro-housing will “attract millennials to the urban core” and Kiernan said Hall hopes to give younger people, who typically make less money, more options for affordable housing.

The ordinance is the first policy recommendation to come out of the Department of Planning’s Tiny House Feasibility Study, according to a press release.

The accessory dwelling units will be used as a pilot program for the city, Kiernan said, to see how tiny houses will work in duplex housing, how the community reacts and how many are built.

The ordinance takes a step toward making Atlanta an affordable city to live in, Dickens said, but the city still has more to do.

Tiny houses don’t solve problems for families, as they can only house a small number of people, Dickens said.

Other mechanisms need to be used to ensure affordable housing is available, he said, like inclusionary zoning, which Dickens introduced legislation on last year.

The ordinance passed last May requires any developer receiving subsidies from a development authority to make 15 percent of the units available for individuals who make 80 percent of the area median income or 10 percent of units for lower-income residents, people who make 60 percent of the area median income.