With the cost of homeownership rising, build-to-rent offers an attractive alternative for new families — so why are we banning them?
Like much of the nation, Georgians face a severe housing shortage — a crisis driving prices out of reach for too many families, especially young parents looking for starter homes. With the problem only worsening due to rising mortgage rates and ever-shrinking supply, why are so many local officials in Georgia trying to ban “build to rent” homes when these provide one of the most promising and innovative housing alternatives?
BTR homes are exactly what they sound like — explicitly built to rent instead of sell. For many readers, homeownership is simply not an option in this economy. Rentals help bridge the gap between living with parents (or worse, homelessness). Yet several towns and counties across Georgia have enacted laws that heavily restrict or outright ban BTRs, uncritically bowing to NIMBY — not in my backyard — pressures.
Yet BTRS do not remotely **implicate** typical NIMBY arguments against development — increased traffic, infrastructure strain, and neighborhood character. BTR subdivisions are filled with detached single-family dwellings maintained by professionals and indiscernible from owned homes across the street.
Simply put, these complaints mask NIMBY suspicion of who might live in a rental home near them — a class- and often race-based exclusionary impulse that has poisoned our nation’s residential geography since the advent of zoning.
One need look no further than the U.S. Supreme Court’s first zoning decision to see this impulse at play. In **_Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co._** (1926), the Court upheld a local Ohio ordinance banning apartment buildings, likening those who live in rentals—mostly immigrants or minorities at the time—to “pigs” and “parasites.” To the Court, an apartment in a suburban neighborhood was “a right thing in the wrong place, like a pig in the parlor instead of the barnyard.”
Such views have no place in modern society. A recent decision from New Jersey’s Appellate Court rightly called out anti-renter sentiment as an illegitimate reason to ban forms of housing that might attract them to an area. In **_Tirpak v. Borough of Point Pleasant Beach Board of Adjustment_** (2019), the court correctly observed that “the status of a house’s occupant as a property-owner rather than as a tenant is no guarantee that he or she will be a law-abiding and considerate neighbor.” Though the Court sympathized with the Borough’s “desire to maintain a quiet and peaceful environment in this single-family zone,” it concluded that it “cannot accomplish that objective by imposing land use restrictions that discriminate against renters.”
This enlightened reasoning should resonate with officials in cities and counties faced with calls to ban much-needed rental housing — especially among those who wish to avoid constitutional challenges. But the proliferation of BTR bans shows that so far,
Tirpak’s message has gone unheard or unheeded in Georgia.
Banning BTRs is harmful to both renters and homeowners. It forecloses one among several innovations meant to solve the ever-widening gap between the numbers of households and available homes — especially troublesome in Greater Atlanta. For those keen to reside in a quiet suburban neighborhood, BTRS offers one of the best alternatives to outright ownership yet devised. But bans impact more than just would-be BTR tenants.
A functional housing market must resemble a ladder with different types of housing available at each rung. Under this model, when people upgrade their homes, they leave their former lower-cost unit available for a person moving up the ladder at a slightly different pace. When the government outright bans a useful and unobtrusive housing option, it removes several rungs and thus ensures that it will be more **difficult** (and costly) for people to move into a community and contribute to its prosperity.
BTRs capture the sort of **innovation** the housing market sorely needs as demand grows while supply dwindles. They deserve thoughtful consideration instead of impulsive bans. The anti-BTR movement in the Peach State reflects the rapid population growth Atlanta and its suburbs have seen in recent decades, but without them and other innovative housing options, there are simply not enough places to accommodate actual and would-be transplants.
Last year, state lawmakers debated two bills to prevent local governments from restricting new developments — including BTRs — on NIMBY whims alone. We urge Georgians to push their local and state officials to permit the construction of BTRs through peaceful protests, letters to lawmakers, and, most impactfully, litigation. It is not only a moral and constitutional thing to do; it will also bring greater prosperity for all.
This op-ed was originally published at The Center Square on June 15, 2023.