Bills would undercut quality of new homes

March 19, 2013 

North Carolina’s homebuilders, hard-pressed to find work in recent years, have used their downtime to hammer on one big house – the state House of Representatives.

Now all their political investment is paying off in two House bills aimed at making life easier for homebuilders. But that relief would come at the expense of homebuyers and towns that set standards to promote high-quality and visually appealing housing stock.

House Bill 120 would prevent local governments from requiring inspections for one- and two-family houses other than the eight types delineated in the state building code. The bill also doubles the time between updates to the state’s home building code.

House Bill 150 would limit the ability of local governments to adopt design and aesthetic controls over one- and two-family houses.

HB 120 has passed the House and is before the Senate. HB 150 won preliminary approval in the House Tuesday.

Both bills should be defeated. Ignore the claims that easing home construction rules will spur growth and jobs. In the Triangle, at least, there was plenty of housing construction under the current rules before the housing bubble broke.

These bills won’t promote jobs. They’ll hurt the real driver of the region’s and the state’s growth: quality of life. Protecting it depends on stopping the development community from doing what it wants as cheaply as it can.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican and one of the sponsors of HB 150, says his bill will stop towns like his own that have “overstepped their bounds” by setting appearance standards. This is a remarkable position since Dollar, much more than many of his colleagues, has witnessed the tremendous growth in Cary, growth fueled by its insistence on aesthetic standards that increase the value of all the town’s housing.

Rep. Mike Hager, a Rutherfordton Republican, is a homebuilder and a sponsor of HB 120. He claims limiting local inspections and doubling the time between updates to the state’s building code from three to six years would lower the cost of houses.

No, it would lower the costs of building houses. The price of those houses would be determined by whatever the market will bear. If demand is strong – and it is finally growing – homebuilders would simply pocket their reduced costs as extra profits. Homebuyers, meanwhile, would purchase homes with potentially serious flaws missed because of an absence of local inspections and with a reduced energy efficiency because the proposed law could delay updates to the state energy code until 2019.

Wake County mayors held a news conference Monday to express alarm over HB 150 and their potential loss of local authority. Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said the bill would take away citizens’ ability “to really say what they want their community to look like.”

She's right. Homebuilders should build homes. They shouldn’t be allowed through their legislative servants to unbuild North Carolina’s vision of attractive, safe and energy-efficient housing.

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