Thanks to the AJC for this story – do you think that Marietta is doing things well in regard to these issues?
Ten people are living in Zugey Arzate’s little brick house in east Cobb County, and her neighbors say the crowd is causing big problems.
Arzate says her 1,511-square-foot home on Little Road has ample space for her and her nine relatives from Mexico.
Carolyn and Max Warner don’t like to see a lot of cars parked at a home in their Cobb County neighborhood.
Neighbors say that’s far too many people in a single-family home. They have counted as many as 10 cars on her property. They fear for their property values.
Such complaints have caught the attention of Cobb County officials, who are targeting homes like Arzate’s through a proposed ban on overcrowding in homes that is scheduled for a vote tonight. The proposal would limit the number of people who can live in a home based on its size — one adult per 390 square feet. That would mean Arzate could have perhaps only three adults in her home.
The county also wants to bar people from seeking day labor, a common practice among illegal immigrants hoping to get paid under the table.
Cobb’s actions come as other local governments, frustrated by the federal government’s inaction, are moving to crack down on illegal immigrants. Cherokee County adopted an ordinance in December to punish landlords who rent to illegal immigrants. Gwinnett County voted last month to require companies seeking county contracts to verify that all of their employees are legal U.S. residents.
Immigrant advocacy groups argue Cobb’s housing ordinance violates federal fair housing laws while the ban on day laborers would be an unconstitutional violation of free speech. “This may be a more sophisticated attempt to create a pretext to target Latino populations, be they immigrants or non-immigrants,” said Elise Shore, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Cobb officials say they are not targeting any one group. They hired outside legal help to try to make its proposals bulletproof. “There is no question that this country has a huge problem with illegal immigration,” said Cobb Commission Chairman Sam Olens. “There is also no question that many of the boarding houses include illegal immigrants and many of the individuals at the day labor sites are illegal immigrants; however, the practices are offensive whether the individuals are legal or illegal.”
Other Georgia communities — particularly college towns where students irritate neighbors by shoehorning into homes — have similarly cracked down on crowding, according to the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.
Cobb’s proposal is tougher than an existing ordinance on the subject, officials say, because it limits the number of adults who can live in one home based on overall square footage as listed in the county tax assessor’s records. Current county law requires at least 50 square feet of “sleeping space” per adult, and officials must get permission from homeowners to enter houses and measure.
Under Cobb’s proposal, a house must have at least 390 square feet of “total building square footage” for each adult resident and for each car parked overnight. It also would limit the people living in a home to one family or two or fewer unrelated adults and their children and/or grandchildren. Family is defined as parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, brothers and sisters.
Officials say they could make exceptions. For example, if a family wanted to let its adult children live at home, it could apply for a land-use permit.
Arzate said she lives with her husband and two children, her father, her brother, and her other brother and his wife and two children. She said everyone living there is in the U.S. legally.
“I don’t know what is the problem. I don’t have too many people here,” said Arzate, speaking in English. “It is only my family.”
Arzate says she suspects she’s being picked on because she’s Hispanic, an accusation her neighbors deny. They have complained repeatedly to Cobb officials about Arzate’s property.
The county has issued citations to Arzate for litter on her property and for cars parked in her yard. Cobb authorities issued a warrant for her arrest this month after she failed to appear in court on the charges.
“They are in the back playing volleyball on their days off,” said Carolyn Warner, a retired Delta flight attendant who lives around the corner from Arzate. “They are probably illegal. … They are all young men.”
A short drive west from Arzate’s home, dozens of men, mostly Hispanic, hang out daily around a RaceTrac gas station on South Cobb Drive. They wait for anyone to pull up and offer as much as $12 an hour for a day of painting or roofing work.
The workers say they used to hunt for jobs in nearby Marietta but stopped after the city started enforcing a 1999 ordinance making it illegal to hire day laborers on streets, sidewalks, parking lots, public property or public rights of way.
Cobb officials have modeled their proposal on the city’s ban. They say they are worried about day laborers starting fights and getting hit by cars.
Speaking both English and Spanish, Antonio Perez stood outside the gas station one day last week, looking for painting work so he could send money to his wife and two children in Mexico.
“No good,” Perez said of Cobb’s plans to crack down on day laborers. And if Cobb goes through with its ban?
Perez said he might look for work in Virginia.