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Athens Rep. Spencer Frye Proposes Measures to Lower Housing Costs

Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens)

Rising housing costs are the top issue on everyone’s minds, according to state Rep. Spencer Frye, but the state legislature has yet to act this year despite Gov. Brian Kemp listing the issue as a priority.

So Frye—who also builds affordable housing as the executive director of Athens Area Habitat for Humanity—released a list of policies last week that he hopes will jump-start the discussion. The list of 20 policies range from measures requiring cities and counties to increase density, to ones aimed at rental property landlords and investors, to additional state funding for housing programs. 

“This list is about exploring what can be done to start solving the housing crisis in Georgia, and to see what the legislature will actually do,” the Athens Democrat said. “We have some tough decisions to make.”

Some of the policies would force local governments to change zoning policies that hinder development. Frye’s plan would allow accessory dwelling units—granny flats or in-law suites over garages or in backyards. The minimum lot size statewide would be set at 3,000 square feet, with a minimum single-family home size of 400 square feet and a minimum of 250 square feet for apartments. All three are smaller than what Athens-Clarke County currently allows. Quadruplexes would be allowed in single-family zones, where they’re currently banned in Athens except for older buildings grandfathered into the zoning code. For rural areas without sewer and water service, lots would only have to be big enough to separate the well from the septic tank. Local governments would also lose the ability to regulate the materials used to build housing, as long as the materials meet International Residential Code standards.

According to Frye, 25% of the 186,000 homes sold in Georgia last year were purchased as investments by hedge funds, which can muscle out other buyers by offering cash. A proposal to stop allowing rental property owners to write off depreciation on their taxes would discourage hedge fund investment.

In addition, rental property owners could no longer allow their properties to deteriorate. Cities and counties would be allowed to make repairs themselves if the landlord refused, then place a tax lien on the property to pay for it. Another proposal to help renters would give them a three-day grace period before eviction proceedings.

To lower construction costs, taxes on manufactured homes would be reduced under Frye’s plan, and homes under a certain size and price would receive a five-year tax abatement.

The state would collect interest from escrow accounts to fund housing programs, and Frye’s plan would boost funding for housing programs at the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. The Georgia Housing Community Initiative program would help communities build workforce housing around economic development projects.

The latter particularly worries Mayor Kelly Girtz, who looks at small nearby communities like Commerce and Rutledge and wonders where employees will live when the SK Batteries and Rivian electric truck plants open in the coming years, potentially bringing hundreds or even thousands of new families to the region. “I’m concerned in the same sense that Athens is the health care provider for Northeast Georgia, we’ll become the housing provider as well,” Girtz said.  

Clarke County added 11,997 people between 2010–2021 and built 6,466 housing units, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, an average of 0.54 per new resident. Surrounding counties are mostly growing just as fast or faster, but not keeping up with growth. Barrow County added 0.36 new units per new resident, Jackson County 0.45, Madison 0.28 and Oconee 0.36. “This is a simple supply and demand problem,” Frye said.

Exact figures vary depending on the source, but there’s no doubt housing costs have skyrocketed recently, both in Athens and across the country. According to, the average local home price was $374,900 in January, up 25% from the previous year. Rocket Homes puts the current median price for listed homes at $311,280, up 19.2%. The median household income is $43,466, which is enough to afford a $120,000 home based on federal guidelines. 

Girtz and Frye have been talking for months about potential legislation, both said. The mayor described Frye’s outline as “something of a Whitman’s sampler” that “needs finessing.” But there are items he supports, such as making evictions harder, and ACC officials have already been talking about ADUs and “missing middle” housing like duplexes and quadruplexes. Girtz also suggested requiring counties to say in their state-mandated comprehensive plans how they intend to provide housing commensurate with job growth.

Frye said he knows some or all of his proposals will draw opposition from various quarters, whether it’s local governments or hedge funds. But beyond the $35.7 million Kemp wants to include in the state budget for rural housing, lawmakers have only paid lip service to the issue so far.

“Nobody likes everything in the bill except me, so I think I’m on the right track,” he said.