Not in My Backyard: Rock Hill’s Building Codes are City Officials’ Scapegoats
Citing Arbitrary Building Codes, Some of Rock Hill’s City Leaders Continuously Say ‘No’ to Tiny Houses, Despite Public Embrace, Says Dale Dove Dale Dove, who firsthand sees the daily struggles of Rock Hill’s homeless and ill-sheltered folks at Renew Our Community has built, from the ground up, a $12,000, 120sq ft. home a person can own, heat and cool, insure, pay taxes on, and maintain for $200/month. What’s more is that a typical tiny house, 400 square feet and under costs upwards of $23,000. Dove has slashed that price with his prototype. Sounds like a dream, right? Well, even though the house is built, it’s not a reality quite yet because of building codes some city leaders have yet to change. No matter how many times Dove states his case. No matter how many people who have seen it, love it, and support it. In a recent interview, Dove told the Rock Hill Reader that he’s taken his newly completed tiny house to several locations around Rock Hill including Winthrop, Rogers Memorial Church, and a recent NAACP meeting and has gotten nothing but positive feedback. He said that he even stuck around the parking lot for at least 3 hours after one event as more and more folks came up to see the tiny house, calling others over to take a peek. They were adamant in knowing how much the tiny house is and how they can get one. On other occasions, the number one question Dove hears is “Where are you going to put a tiny house?” He proceeds to explain what the current rules are, and then tells them how he wants to change the rules that aren't helping anyone. His biggest challenge in order to get tiny homes rolled out in York County has been zoning and building codes, universally meant to keep property values high; something almost always decided on a local level. Something that can change. Rock Hill government’s oversized home building regulations are harmful When it comes to affordable housing in Rock Hill, there aren’t enough options thanks to outdated mandates such as minimum square footage and lot size that help to preserve the status quo ideas like ‘the bigger the better’. But, the larger the home, the more excessive the taxation is on those who want to build as well as our environment. Just take a look at how impact fees are, as Dove explained, tacking on an additional $1,000-$2,000 to new home builders in Rock Hill due to their home's size. People often assume that if a property has passed government inspections, then the codes must be acceptable. Well, they’re not. Not anymore. We are in a city where heavily regulated and unquestioned building codes are the norm. Arguments for building codes in Rock Hill might be common views, but are they true? Dove doesn't think so. Are building codes like these really necessary to protect the public’s safety, health, and welfare? With different building codes that are unique to tiny houses, would Rock Hill crumble to the ground? Would tiny houses speckling the city ruin its integrity and invite crime and anarchy? Could that be why the city has pushed against Dove’s plan since he started, having halted the building process and thwarted his plan to help provide homes for the homeless and more affordable homes to those who are struggling to make ends meet? Meanwhile, take a drive around the area, notice some initiatives like solar panels that provide tax breaks, and consider the disparity between half-hearted power affordability and the whole house possibilities Dove is trying to encourage. Not in My Backyard: Building Codes are Scapegoats Building codes have instilled passivity in residents over the years across America. With growth and revitalization in Rock Hill, these codes are hardly questioned because, according to Dove, the government expects us to jump on the NIMBY train that encourages an obscene idea that if affordable housing (like tiny houses) are brought to Rock Hill, crime will run rampant and destroy our city’s delicately balanced understanding that the poor are to stay poor and those who are better off are more worthy. We are in a city where heavily regulated and unquestioned building codes are sadly the norm. What is Affordable Housing, exactly? According to HUD, we should be spending no more than 30% of our income on our total cost of housing. This includes additional costs such as maintenance and utilities which can be expensive, especially in older houses that aren’t energy efficient. So-called affordable housing has recently been erected in Rock Hill, houses with price tags between $110,000 and $125,000. Couple that with, say, the median annual salary of a police patrol officer or school teacher in Rock Hill that hovers around $52,000. In the end, it doesn’t sound that affordable after all. “I want to live in a community where everybody is valued. Not where property is valued,” Dove explains when talking about the American Dream and comparing home sizes. “Where’s the humanity?” he asks. “What’s the difference between a 4,000 and a 400 sq. ft. house?” From his perspective, the difference is simple: home prices, energy prices, and pride in homeownership, citing that there’s a psychological aspect to those who get to live the American Dream - and tiny houses might be the answer for many in the area. Since 2007, we’ve asked ourselves, ‘Is it good for the children?’ Dove goes on to explain that so many people in Rock Hill don’t have much income, no matter how hard they work; people have families and children that depend on them and are working restaurant jobs, for example, where the minimum wage is $2.13 an hour. He says that if the question ‘is it good for the children?’ is going to be asked, then feasible affordable housing like tiny houses should be considered as part of the answer. He then gave this scenario: Imagine two of your five workdays are spent earning money to pay for your rental (since you couldn’t afford a down payment on a house). You worry when the power is going to be cut off, and fear the day you are kicked out and how you’ll have to explain to your kids what’s going on. How the possibility of people owning something like a tiny house could keep these situations down to a minimum in Rock Hill. One study published in 2012 explained how “homeowners not only experience a significant increase in housing satisfaction but also after changing their tenure status, they obtain a different utility from the same housing context.” It's no surprise that home ownership, no matter how many square feet, helps combat depression. There’s a relationship between lack of homeownership and crime rate, and in communities where people own their homes, crime rates drop significantly. There's now something at stake. Additionally, it's been found that owning a home compared with renting leads to: a 13 to 23% higher quality home environment greater cognitive ability and fewer child behavior problems For children living in owned homes: math achievement is up to 9% higher reading achievement is up to 7% higher children’s behavioral problems are 1 to 3% lower Rock Hill’s current building trends are stuck in the past while heading in the direction of even more cookie cutter gingerbread houses (River Walk & Baxter) with lofty unused space and the often seen fake facades of houses in new HOA developments that make it look like there is a purpose for those ‘second story’ windows. What city leaders can’t seem to comprehend is that inflated home size doesn't match the persistent shrinking size of the American household. Compared to 40 years ago, where when there were 3.01 people per household and the average new home size was 1660 sq. ft., or 550 sq. ft. per occupant, the 2012 the average American household contained a just 2.55 people–basically 1000 sq. ft. per occupant of a newly constructed home. Everybody Else is doing it. Why can't we? Dove said that the city council has become more perceptive to his tiny house idea, but why don’t people like the mayor step in to help? In Greensboro Scott Jones from Tiny Houses Greensboro talked about the support they received from the local government. He said that the mayor actually helped in building their model house. Why can’t Rock Hill do that? Oh yeah, building codes that are made to look as if they’ve been set in stone.
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