Skip to main content

Decatur Enacts High-Priority Recommendations From the Affordable Housing Task Force Report


In Depth

Decatur Enacts High-Priority Recommendations From the Affordable Housing Task Force Report

Two-story townhouses arranged around an openspace. Several recommendations from Decatur's Affordable Housing Task Force report influenced the city's missing middle ordinance.

In 2019, the city commission in Decatur, Georgia, created the Affordable Housing Task Force (AHTF) to recommend measures to address the city's shortage of affordable rental and for-sale housing. Composed of local activists, city planners, housing consultants, and concerned citizens, AHTF spent 6 months researching existing barriers to the preservation and production of affordable housing. The goals of the resulting report include increasing the city's affordable housing supply and protecting existing units from displacement. To achieve these goals, the report presents more than 20 recommendations, half of which AHTF designates as high-priority measures requiring immediate action. To help implement the recommendations, the city commission adopted O-23-Z-01, a zoning amendment that aims to increase missing middle housing options in Decatur's four single-family residential districts, which together account for 67 percent of all land in the city. The ordinance allows duplexes, triplexes, and quadruplexes on lots meeting the minimum size, width, and depth requirements as well as the same building mass and bulk limits mandated for single-family detached buildings. Although the ordinance does not restrict occupancy of these units by income, AHTF anticipates that the increased density will reduce per-unit costs. To maintain neighborhood character, the ordinance follows the report's recommendation to apply the same floor area ratio and building size limits to both missing middle residences and single-family detached houses.

In addition to the missing middle ordinance, Decatur implemented another AHTF report recommendation in 2020, when it adopted mandatory inclusionary housing. This regulation requires residential developments of five or more units to set aside at least 10 percent of the units for moderate-income households. The inclusionary provisions allow density bonuses, and multifamily developers may provide reduced parking. The AHTF report recommends these and other incentives — such as transfer of development rights, tax abatements, reduced permitting fees, and expedited development review — for inclusionary housing as well as any development with affordable units. The inclusionary provisions also offer alternatives to building the affordable units on the development site; the affordable units can be built on another site, or developers can pay a fee in lieu of constructing the units. This fee can fund the construction of affordable housing, another AHTF report recommendation. The task force also recommended a diversity of housing typologies, and in January 2021, the city modified the Unified Development Ordinance by amending the R-17 zoning district regulations to allow cottage court developments in single-family zoning districts.

Decatur acted on another AHTF report recommendation in 2021, when it incorporated the Decatur Land Trust to acquire, sell, and develop land to ensure permanently affordable housing. Although the trust is still in the process of becoming fully staffed and funded as of November 2023, it eventually will manage land transfers for the city. A pilot project, Oak Cottage Court, will feature six for-sale cottages framing a community green space. The city is using Oak Cottage Court, the first cottage court to be built since O-21-Z-01 revised the regulations for this housing type, to identify regulatory barriers that might discourage the development of cottage courts. The Decatur Downtown Development Authority owns the site and funded the site's development. After construction is completed in 2024, the authority will transfer the site to the Decatur Land Trust, which will retain ownership of the land as it sells the houses at affordable prices to employees of the city, public schools, and the Decatur Housing Authority.

Click here to access the the missing middle ordinance and information about how it addresses regulatory barriers. Find more plans, regulations, and research that state and local governments can use to reduce impediments to affordable housing at HUD USER’s Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse.

Read past articles

The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.