Some are eyeing the empty wards of The Ridges as a site for future affordable housing projects in Athens.

Councilwoman Sarah Grace, D-At Large, presented a slew of recommendations regarding affordable housing to her fellow Athens City Council members at their Monday night committee meeting. She pointed to The Ridges as a potential site for affordable housing as the city looks to expand.

Grace and other members of the city’s Affordable Housing Commission are hoping to address a variety of housing needs in Athens. More than 70% of the housing stock in Athens is rental units, Grace said. 

That can sometimes deter business development in the city, she said. 

“On average, 25 companies a year come to Athens seeking to establish a business here,” Grace said. “Many of them struggle … because they’re concerned about the availability of housing for their employees.”

The Ridges isn’t the only site within the city limits that could be developed. In poring over zoning maps of the city, members of the Affordable Housing Commission found a variety of sites that could be developed into affordable housing, Grace said.

Grace and other members of the commission hope to spur development of affordable starter homes, retirement homes and homes that are accessible for people with mobility challenges. 

Other suggestions from the commission included establishing a housing and development department within the city, which could look at providing incentives for private development of affordable housing in Athens. 

The Affordable Housing Commission was formed more than a year ago to look at the various housing challenges in Athens. Its recommendations stem from a look at the city’s zoning and development practices over the last year, as well as the work of a task force prior to that.

Commission members hope to increase access to homes with price ranges from $125,000 to about $250,000, Grace said. 

In addition to eyeing changes to permanent housing in Athens, some city officials are looking to regulate temporary rentals like Airbnbs in the city. Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, said she plans to take a look at current regulations on Airbnbs in different types of residential areas

“We need to take this opportunity to be able to regulate them,” Fahl said. 

Fahl said she wants short term rentals like Airbnbs within the city to uniformly pay the transient guest tax. 

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