KENNESAW, Ga. — The zoning ordinance prohibiting more than two unrelated people from living in a single-family residence has hampered housing options for many Kennesaw State University students, but Cobb County Commission Chairwoman Lisa Cupid says there may be a chance to change the rules.
In a recent interview, Cupid acknowledged the high costs of student housing, the limited options for students and how KSU is now Georgia’s second-largest University by student population.
“I can’t say that we have been the most balanced with respect to that, but I can tell you within the past couple of years, there was a change to the student housing code that primarily addresses the multi-family student housing that’s been going up in the area,” Cupid said.
The recent change allows for student housing complexes to be exempt from the preexisting ordinance, but only applies to residential developments made specifically for college students.
“The community is expecting the same traditional character that was there before the model of the University changed,” she said.
Cupid noted that the Board of Commissioners has also decided to rewrite the county’s zoning code, with the intent to be “more inclusive of student housing.”
Cupid encouraged KSU students to attend public hearings on the new code and address student housing issues “more proactively.”
Protesting after being cited won’t change anything but airing grievances while the ordinance is being rewritten could very well lead to new rules, she said.
“Don’t wait until somebody puts a code enforcement violation notice on a door and then try to create policy; it’s not going to happen,” she said. “Students need to be at the table, your university needs to be at the table, to show that KSU is also an important stakeholder and that you are contributors to the county, so that your interests can be considered.”
If revised, students could split rent and other bills and potentially save hundreds of dollars each month. Most off-campus options for KSU students start at nearly $700 per month. This is in addition to the national student debt crisis students are already facing. The American adult population owes approximately $1.7 trillion combined in student debt, according to the Federal Reserve.
Jasmine Nixon, a recent KSU graduate, commuted to campus while pursuing her degree.
“It became really stressful for my mom cause we were all sharing a car, so she kind of softly kicked me out and told me I had to find somewhere else to stay.” she said.
Nixon faced multiple situations in which she had to find a new place to live, in order to avoid the county’s restrictions. During her sophomore year, Nixon subleased a room from a coworker and their fiancé in an apartment, where she helped pay the rent under the table.
“That was probably a third to half of my income at the time. I had had friends that I had wanted to move in with because it’s cheaper to live with people,” she said. “Even though I worked full-time at Starbucks, I couldn’t afford the student housing, cause it’s like $700 plus a month.”
Nixon noted that current students may not have the time to attend Cobb County’s public meetings.
“As a student, your focus is just trying to be in school, and make ends meet and feed yourself,” she said. “It’s a balancing act.”
College students aren’t the only ones who have taken issue with this ordinance.
Even though the ordinance isn’t strictly enforced, landlords in the county hesitate to rent their properties to college students and risk facing legal action. Richard Pellegrino, a member of an ad hoc affordable housing coalition, supports efforts to revise the ordinance.
“Let’s put it this way; it was never broadly enforced,” he said. “Maybe if somebody complained or if they were targeting some people, and so forth, because right here, in my neighborhood, in my family, as a matter of fact, we’re not compliant, and I’m not scared to say so. Because, in Lisa Cupid’s neighborhood, it’s not being enforced.”
Pellegrino himself has come at odds with the ordinance.
“Through gentrification and because of the Braves stadium, the rents are just sky high and two people cannot afford them, and I have a family of 10, so we were illegal to begin with, in terms of this ordinance.”
Hearings on the revised zoning code have not yet been scheduled. More information can be found here.