In college towns across America, including Athens, laws have been passed that limit the number of unrelated people who can live together in residential areas.
The idea is to prevent a bunch of college kids, each with a car, a girlfriend and buddies who can party all night, from disrupting a quiet single-family neighborhood.
Today, those laws are being copied in cities such Roswell that have no colleges.
What they have is a lot of immigrants, mainly Latinos, who work at low-paying jobs and try to economize by rooming together in low-priced housing.
It’s common to find 10 or more immigrants living in one house, and there have been reports of 20 living together, or even 30.
That creates the equivalent of boardinghouses in single-family neighborhoods, with transient men coming and going, sometimes at all hours.
Homeowners are complaining about it, and cities, including several in metro Atlanta, are responding with laws that impose heavy fines and even jail time for both landlords and tenants.
The issue has brought the emotional national debate over immigration policy down to the local level.
“Until the issue of immigration reform is resolved at the federal level, it’s going to continue to create this tension that exists at the local level,” said Maritza Pichon, executive director of the Latin American Association, a social services organization.
Cities can help defuse that tension by bringing Hispanic leaders to the table to explore solutions before laws are imposed, Pichon said.
Residents and city officials in Roswell say the intent is not to keep out Hispanics or any other group.
“I don’t care who you are or what your race is,” said June Fletcher of Roswell. “We’re not judging you based on that. We’re just concerned about our property values.”
Roswell has responded by drafting a law that would allow no more than three unrelated people to live together in a single-family home. The penalty for ongoing violations would be up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine per day.
The proposed law goes to the city’s Planning Commission on Tuesday and then to the City Council, where it appears to have broad support.