Full House Tests Cobb Law

Richard Whitt, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 20

Manuel Flores rents a house in a tidy south Cobb neighborhood, where he lives with his wife, five children, two cousins and the mother of a cousin—10 people in a three-bedroom, one-bath home.

The cousins occupy makeshift bedrooms in the basement. More family members—up to 10—visit often, Flores said, and that has caused tension in his neighborhood.

Flores said neighbors have complained about the number of people at the house, cars parked in front and the number of children playing in the yard.

One of those neighbors is Catalina Erneston. She is angry at what she sees as a rooming house in her neighborhood. She believes as many as 20 people are living there, and has gone before the Cobb County Commission twice to complain about noisy outdoor parties and cars parked on the lawn or blocking the street.

“When are you going to do something about it?” said Erneston, who immigrated to the United States from Peru 30 years ago. “I never thought I’d have to live with these conditions. This is Cobb County.”

Cobb officials are using Flores’ home—492 Alcott Drive in the Concord Park neighborhood—as a first test case for a new ordinance passed by the County Commission in January.

Earlier this month Cobb issued a citation against Jose Cruz Rodriguez, the owner of the Alcott Drive house, for violating the new “multifamily use” ordinance. If found guilty, Rodriguez could face a fine of $100 to $1,000. He told officers he is not guilty and will challenge the citation in court Thursday.

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Cobb officials said they are hearing complaints similar to Erneston’s from residents of neighborhoods where houses have become rental property, often occupied by immigrant laborers, their extended families and friends.

It’s a situation that has been cropping up in cities across the country for decades, but now the new arrivals, mostly Hispanic, are drawn to some of Atlanta’s suburbs for the same reason earlier immigrants were drawn to apartments in cities—that’s where they can find work.

They can change the character and culture of suburban neighborhoods where they have settled.

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But Cobb’s Hispanic population has increased more than sixfold in just over a decade, and as the immigrant population grows, so too do instances of what code enforcement officials refer to as “cultural conflicts.”

Hosack said he gets about five complaints a month, but did not have statistics of how many citations or fines were handed out under the old ordinance.

“Ninety-five percent of the complaints I get are white folks complaining about Hispanic folks,” he said. “Three years ago, it was not a problem.”

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