Archive for October, 2008

HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Funds (NSF) Offer Much Needed Foreclosure Help

October 21, 2008

The Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention legislation signed by the President Bush on July 30 provides $3.9 billion in emergency assistance through Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to communities hardest hit by the foreclosure and subprime crisis. The new funds are provided through a program known as Neighborhood Stabilization Funds (NSF).

HUD entitlement jurisdictions (principle cities in an MSA and urban counties with a population above 200,000) in metro Atlanta received $68 million of the $153 million allocation of NSF directed to Georgia. Smaller counties and cities in metro Atlanta are eligible for application for the statewide NSF program through Georgia DCA.The funds will be distributed to states and local governments no later than Oct. 28 and must be used within 18 months of their receipt. This rapid distribution timeframe is unprecedented and calls for a well-coordinated state and regional response that will successfully maximize the funds to stabilize neighborhoods in peril. According to Realty Trac, the Atlanta region has 80 percent of the state of Georgia properties that were in any stage of foreclosure as of August 2008, compared to having an estimated 42% of the state’s housing units.

Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership (ANDP), Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and the Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing at the Urban Land Institute held a forum on Wednesday, Oct. 8 at the Georgia Pacific Center Auditorium to distribute information on the new Neighborhood Stabilization Funds (NSF).

More information on the NSF funds is available at Georgia DCAs website.

Speculative Zoning

October 21, 2008
By Dan Reuter, AICP

The global mortgage and finance industry is suffering a meltdown not seen since the Great Depression. Thousands of homes have been foreclosed upon and new homes sit vacant in far-flung subdivisions.

According to the housing data firm Metrostudy, approximately140,000 lots are currently available in subdivisions in metro Atlanta with roads and utilities already installed. This is compared to around 40,000 in 2001.

Lending is tight. According to most experts, we are returning to a more normal period of mortgage lending that existed in the 1990s. The number of persons with sufficient credit and income to buy homes is likely to be smaller.

But apparently none of these factors will stop a property owner or developer from master planning thousands of acres and seeking rezoning from local governments. Nor does it seem to make planners or elected officials reluctant to support zoning changes in rural areas for thousands of additional lots and multiple subdivisions.

Some planners might call the rezoning of land when there is no obvious market nor community need, “speculative rezoning”.

The use of market data and demographic analysis to determine the need for new development does not occur enough by local governments in Georgia. Many planners or elected officials may not see a problem with zoning more land for development than is truly needed based on a prudent understanding of forecasts.

But there are consequences from “over zoning”. Too many homes and lots in an area can put downward pressure on existing home values or undermine the need to reinvest in homes in existing communities or subdivisions.

Over zoning for development at the fringe of a county can undermine the value of already vacant land zoned in areas that are well served with infrastructure. Homebuyers may purchase homes in a new 500-unit subdivision served by two lane roads in a rural area.

The better choice for the community would probably be to develop on land already zoned closer to jobs, schools or services. It is more likely that a developer can purchase cheaper land and assure more profit than for citizens to “choose” to live in subdivisions on land at the fringe.

A permissive atmosphere for rezoning rural land on the fringe of communities undermines real goals for managing growth and fiscal policy. It also undervalues the possible agricultural use of land.

It’s amazing that planners will sit attentively and listen to the tales many developers will spin to rezone property. Most often a true market study to determine the need for the rezoning has not occurred. If such rezoning is not supported by the local comprehensive plan or by knowledge of market conditions, than on what basis should it be approved?

Holding land for an extended period of time does not assure a legal right that a local government has a responsibility to rezone it to a greater use. Should we expect the federal government to assure our future value or stock held in GM or Apple?

Conversely holding property as an agricultural use means the owner has paid taxes on the most basic value. Why would holding land and paying taxes as an agricultural use require that after 10 years a high density residential zoning should be granted?

Local governments should support private development and accommodate new growth. But there are times when reality requires us to actually look at the data and facts. For most of our state’s history, planners and elected officials have relied too much on the speculative feelings of developers, property owners or bankers to rezone land. Too much land zoned or subdivided for housing or retail in a community was not seen as a problem. We too often assume that the private market and developers know the need for growth better than local governments. The private market is not in the business of understanding and coordinating the needs of entire communities.

The day has come in Georgia when more zoning and development can mean a real threat to community stability. Declining residential markets and high foreclosures are leaving many homes vacant. Foreclosures and vacancies can erode the values and stability of neighborhoods.

Rather than worry that planners will oppose zoning land in rural areas, developers should pay more attention to the possibility of an over-abundance of zoned land, over-building and foreclosures.

Understanding the supply of existing lots and zoned land in a community should receive more scrutiny from planners or elected officials. Local governments in Georgia have almost complete control through zoning to direct the future of our cities and counties.

We often undermine the strong powers and laws associated with zoning in Georgia by ignoring local governments’ planning responsibility. This problem can be helped by following the three rules below.

  1. First, know your existing housing stock and how many lots are already platted but vacant. Know how much development could occur on existing zoned land.
  2. Second, develop a market-based view of the needs of the community and the demographic changes that require more growth within the community.
  3. Finally, understand what types of new housing and development your codes and zoning laws are likely to produce. Once you are grounded in the current entitlements of property and the need for new amounts or types of housing and development, then you will be in a better position to evaluate the need for rezoning land.

Don’t make permanent decisions about zoning land in your community based on fuzzy feelings of growth, rights and laws that don’t exist.

Top 10 Resources for Zoning in Georgia

October 21, 2008
  1. The American Planning Association (APA) and the Georgia Chapter (GPA) – APA have tremendous resources for all aspects of planning and zoning issues including books, conferences, reports, etc. GPA provides these resources, state conferences and other training to 1,100 members in Georgia. Websites:
    American Planning Association
    Georgia Planning Association
  2. Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) and the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) -The two organizations have staff and resources on their websites that can answer questions, provide tools and support local positions during the state legislative session. Websites:
    Association County Commissioners of Georgia
    Georgia Municipal Association
  3. Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) – ARC develops information on zoning and planning toolkits on zoning, provides training and assists local governments with planning in metro Atlanta through programs like the Livable Centers Initiative (LCI). Many of these resources are transferable throughout Georgia. Website:
    Atlanta Regional Commission
  4.  The “Good” Attorneys – There are many lawyers in Georgia but few that local governments and planners really should consider as a zoning resource. While not a complete list some prospects include: Peter Olson of Jenkins and Olson, Bob Zoeckler of Maddox, Nix, Bowman & Zoeckler and David Kirk of Troutman Sanders.
  5. UGA, GT, Emory and GSU – There are many brilliant professors and students at colleges and universities in our state that are involved in planning and zoning work. A few that have been involved in local planning over the years and should be considered resources include: the Department of City and Regional Planning at Georgia Tech, Laurie Fowler and Jamie Roskie at UGA College of Law, Frank Alexander of Emory University and Julia Juergensmeyer at Georgia State College of Law.
  6. Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) – DCA provides services, regulates planning rules for local governments and regions, provides economic development resources and manages housing programs in Georgia. They also have toolkits and other zoning related resources. Website:
    Georgia Department of Community Affairs
  7. The Carl Vinson Institute of Government at UGA and Georgia Association of Zoning Administrators (GAZA) conduct conferences and training for local government officials and staff on planning and zoning issues. Websites:
    Carl Vinson Institute of Government
    Georgia Association of Zoning Administrators
  8. Non-governmental organizations – Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, Georgia Conservancy, Atlanta District of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), the Livable Communities Coalition and Southface Energy Institute are organizations whose primary mission is not planning and zoning but have provided tremendous resources for zoning, planning and development issues to Georgia communities. Websites:
    The Sierra Club
    Georgia Conservancy
    Urban Land Institue
    Livable Communities Coalition
    South Face
  9. Local governments on the edge – There are many local governments in the State of Georgia that are more aggressive with implementing better planning and zoning. While not a complete list, some of these local governments include Athens-Clarke County, City of Atlanta Bureau of Planning, City of Woodstock, Cherokee County – Bells Ferry Overlay.
  10. National organizations include the Local Government Commission, Smart Growth America, Smart Growth Network and Community Rights Counsel. Other organizations provide reports or toolkits to educate or implement better zoning in communities. Websites:
    Local Government Commission
    Smart Growth America
    Smart Growth Online
    Community Rights Counsel

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