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The resurgence of the rented room

Nursing student with microwave seeks housemate for quiet living. Long-haul truck driver, gone for days at a time, is searching for another male to split the responsibilities of a small house. Older, empty nest couple with an available room looking to offer “home style” living for college student. Students and teachers. Retired and commuting. Nurses. Farmers. Construction workers and clerks. Singles and marrieds are doing it ‘“ sharing their housing with strangers for a split in the rent. What was once considered an arrangement by college students exclusively, and given up upon the pedestal of adulthood, is now becoming a way of life for folks who are seeking refuge from overwhelming rents or are seeking ways to offset personal expenses and pay their hemorrhaging mortgages. Because the arrangements are sometimes informal and unreported, it’s hard to assess just how many people now share their homes with strangers for money. As the economy plummeted during the last quarter of 2008 and the opening quarter of 2009, mortgage foreclosures soared and layoffs became commonplace, ads for people seeking housemates and roommates increased by more than 70% nationwide in newspaper classifieds. It seems to some that more and more properties in Barnesville are becoming sanctuaries for the economically weary and those searching for smaller and more affordable living situations. The truth is, however, that rooms for rent have always been a way of life in Barnesville-Lamar County. A lot of Gordon students lived in boarding houses that, for all purposes, resemble the “rooms for rent” situations of today’s market. ”Rooms for rent and boarding houses and such have certainly been around [in Barnesville] since Gordon came to town. Even the mill workers had a similar situation, although most of them lived in cottages built by the mills in a village community, so to speak, on Elm and Zebulon streets,” noted researcher Shanna English, the volunteer curator of the Old Jail Museum. Not all homes in Barnesville are suitable for roommate situations, though. With the economy, suffering more infractions are likely to occur, further blurring the line between properly zoned properties and illegal living situations. ”We have multi-family regulations here in Barnesville. Now, multi-family does not have a precise definition in that family doesn’t mean a father, mother and two kids. Rather it means anyone non-related,” said David Rose, who heads up the City of Barnesville’s building and zoning department. With the majority of the city’s housing stock more than 40 years old, it’s important that existing structures be maintained and upgraded as necessary. Rose oversees such maintenance and enforcement of the zoning code as improvements are made. With growth and development as continuing issues here, the department plays an important role in city government. ”The problem we have ‘“ being a college town ‘“ is that everybody wants to rent a room. So when we pick up on it, we have to enforce zoning laws. It isn’t the fun part of the job but it is a necessary one,” Rose added. Barnesville resident and property manager Mark Stone is all too familiar with the responsibilities of upholding the zoning code and keeping properties in check. With multiple properties in the Gordon College perimeter and a peppering elsewhere, Stone is quick to point out, “off-campus housing will always be here and the goal should be to compliment the surrounding neighborhood.” Before investing in his first property, Stone was careful to check zoning restrictions and find areas where multi-family units were in place. ”I rent almost exclusively to Gordon students. I don’t provide alternative living situations and just open rooms up to anyone,” he said. It is this commitment and hands-on approach that have made Stone’s properties so respectable and sought after. Investors and concerned landlords like Stone often put behavior contracts in place to assure quality living spaces. Both the student ‘“ or tenant ‘“ and the parent are held responsible for actions within the home. More and more people are looking for roommates to help pay the bills. With proper zoning enforcement, proactive landlords, concerned neighbors, roommate compatibility assurance and careful planning, such arrangements may well be the future of the local housing market – particularly in the area near Gordon College. As he looked at his Barnesville map and pointed out yet another potential development, Rose said, “It’s a matter of the public not being educated. We’re not trying to stop anyone from making extra income on a properly zoned multi-family properties. We’re just enforcing the laws currently in place.”

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