In China, 2023 is the Year of the Water Rabbit. But in Georgia, we believe strongly that this is the Year of the Home – many affordable homes – for working families.
One of America’s leaders in home building throughout most of the new millennium, Georgia was one of those states significantly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis with its soaring material costs and big-time labor shortages.
To make matters worse, home builders could not utilize versatile and cost-effective materials like vinyl siding to improve matters due to longtime local bans on modern materials throughout the state. The effects have been a dangerously low inventory of affordable homes for first responders, teachers, small business professionals and so many other workforce families. In 2022, home prices rose 14% from the year before, with a median price of $367,800.
Over the past four years, the Vinyl Siding Institute’s (VSI) Advocacy team, led by Senior Director of Advocacy Alex Fernandez, has worked tirelessly to pursue common-sense legislative reforms at the state level. In 2021, VSI partnered with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and Habitat for Humanity of Georgia to develop a workforce homeownership initiative to explore possible solutions to address the housing crisis – including new state legislation that bans restrictive zoning ordinances and regulatory impediments to homebuilding.
After big wins in lifting material bans in North Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas, VSI worked toward a legislative victory in Georgia in 2022. But their partners there expressed concerns that – with a very polarizing election year – they did not want affordable workforce housing to fall victim to bitter partisan politics. Accordingly, the group developed a strategy to introduce a bill in 2023, following a year of thoughtful conversations with leaders and influencers “away from the campaign trail” in 2022.
This strategy so far has proven to be quite successful in setting the table in 2023 for workforce housing legislation. And the timing could not be better with Governor Brian Kemp’s public declarations to tackle the workforce housing crisis in Georgia since the beginning of the year.
“Our partners in Georgia tell me that ‘we’re going to get our bill – hands down,’” Alex said. “You can never guarantee legislative outcomes, but our people there have never witnessed anything quite like this. After two years of warning leaders about the crisis and being politely dismissed, even the Governor is now on board. Georgia has been ranked the #1 place in the nation for doing business for the last nine years, with more and more companies flocking to the state. Now, CEOs are telling Georgia’s leadership that they can’t find good workers because the workers can’t find homes they can afford. This includes a CEO from one manufacturer in the western part of the state that’s looking to add 50,000 new jobs over the next decade. To say there is a sense of urgency to clear the way for workforce housing is now an understatement.”
Alex anticipates that a workforce housing development bill will be drafted and submitted to the state legislature by early March. Key components of the bill could include tax credits for homebuilders, incentives and new funding opportunities for home buyers, and – of most significant interest to VSI member manufacturers – statewide prohibition of any bans on modern building materials (like vinyl and polymeric siding) by local municipalities. Alex also hopes that the recent national attention to Georgia’s workforce housing crisis could be a harsh warning to other states who still deal with similar housing development restrictions.
“They should see what’s going on in Georgia and act quickly before their economic growth is negatively impacted,” he asserted. “The vinyl siding industry is here to help.”
Don Browne is a writer, entrepreneur and local legislator who believes that the power of words can change the world. He provides unique writing services for clients in the construction, health care, IT and hospitality sectors. He has a passion for small business and start-ups, as well as writing about Irish history, family and corporate biographies. As a homeowner and father of four who is passionate about community development, Don looks forward to writing more about the exciting possibilities of creating traditional neighborhoods and more sustainable communities using modern materials.