Housing Justice League Hosts Public Hearing on Renter’s State of Emergency
(APN) ATLANTA — The Housing Justice League presented “Renter’s State of Emergency,” its report on the struggle of low-income workers to pay their rent, to the public and to various elected officials in a public hearing held on Tuesday, July 19, 2016.
Advocates presented their research report to assist the Atlanta City Council with policy decisions going forward.
In attendance were Chairman Andre Dickens (Post 3-at-large) of the Community Development/Human Resources Committee; and Councilmembers Natalyn Archibong (District 5) and Felicia Moore (District 9); State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta); and State Rep. Park Cannon, (D-Atlanta).
Since 2012, Atlanta has lost approximately five percent of its affordable housing every year, the reports finds.
95 percent of apartments built since 2012 are luxury apartments, the report finds. 72 percent of Atlanta neighborhoods are gentrified or gentrifying.
More than 53 percent of all renters in the city pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing, even though many landlords require proof that tenants’ income exceeds three times the rent.
“I work 80 hours a week and I still can’t afford to live in the city,” David Moore said at the press conference last week.
“We see all these buildings going up to give you the opportunity to live, work, and play in the city. But our reality is, we can work here, but we can’t live here,” Moore said.
Low income and senior residents in areas that are ripe for gentrification are rightly worried about property taxes going up and having to move from where they have lived all their life.
Vera West is a senior citizen living in Big Bethel Village, run by National Church Residences.
“They raised my rent by 85 dollars, they know I can’t afford that,” West testified at the public hearing.
“They receive 45 million dollars for affordable housing, and that money is not trickling down to us senior residents,” West said.
An entire building in the Old Fourth Ward raised the rent by fifty percent on everyone due to market value.
“I have lived in the city for 23 years but I can’t now. We need to hold developers accountable. They get grants for affordable housing and government subsidies and only required to give twenty percent to affordable housing and the rest to luxury apartments,” Alexis Buchanan, who lives in that building, testified.
Will Lance is concerned that we may be turned into a multi-racial slave society by skyrocketing rent and low wages, combined with rising food prices, healthcare, the list goes on.
“We need rent control,” Lance said.
“Atlanta is forty years behind other cities in when it comes to renters’ rights,” Tim Franzen said.
One man spoke on the increase in suicides because people can’t afford to pay their rent in Atlanta.
“They have money to build jails, but they don’t have enough money to build affordable housing,” Nashia Clemons said.
In Atlanta, rental costs are rising, and so are evictions which are quick and easy, even if the landlord fails to maintain the property, unless low-income tenants can access pro bono legal assistance.
The eviction process starts immediately after rent default, and can be completed in less than one month.
An eviction is traumatizing, dehumanizing, and costly for the person being evicted. Once evicted, a person may become homeless due to costly deposits and landlords who require residents to provide proof that they earn three time the rent amount.
After the testimony, Council member, Andre Dickens said, ” This touched my heart.”
“We can have new developments and still retain the culture and character of the people who have built this city, other places have done that and we can too,” Dickens said.
“We have just put a policy together that was enacted July 1. We are not giving developers city money to develop properties that don’t have affordable housing. We are now working to do that on private development across the city,” Dickens said
Dickens is referring to a requirement for Development Authorities doing business in the City of Atlanta to provide two options for affordable unit set-asides.
Atlanta Progressive News played a key role in advocating to two rounds of amendments to the legislation.
In addition, also on July 01, the City’s Affordable Housing Impact Statement policy, drafted by APN’s News Editor, went into effect.
“You see high rises going up without affordability, we are trying to make that a thing of the past,” Dickens said.
“We need a Renters Bill of Rights so no person will step up to a microphone and tell the stories they told tonight. We need to build a city that is a city for everybody… so babies don’t have to live on the street or in a car. This is not the Atlanta we want,” Sen. Fort said.
“This is a glimpse into an open wound in Atlanta. Where is that moral compass for what is morally, socially, and correct for us to do in the city? We need that balance,” Archibong said.
Moore is concerned about substandard housing, where people live with rats, roaches, and mold.
Moore and Archibong are working on taking blighted apartment buildings that are abandoned, and getting non-profit developers to put ten or twenty thousand in each unit and put them in use again as affordable apartments.
Recommended policy solutions to Atlanta’s affordability crisis in the report are:
- Preservation of Existing Affordable Housing – The City needs more accurate Neighborhood Median Income (NMI) measures for affordability targets. The current AMI (Area Median income) measure cover very high income and low income neighborhoods and is too broad. Focusing on a NMI calculation is more accurate measure of affordability to protect existing low income units.
- Better Protection of Renters Rights – The City needs a Just Cause Ordinance to make evictions safe and allowing access to resources so tenants may be relocated safely to a temporary shelter. Also prohibit nighttime evictions and during extreme weather conditions.
City must put in place rent controls to prevent evictions in order to raise the rent on a unit and to protect existing affordable housing
- Inclusionary Zoning – The City needs a policy that guarantees a percentage of units in new developments are set aside as affordable units in mixed income neighborhoods.
- Property Tax Abatement – The City needs a program to encourage developers to build for affordability while protecting long term low income and senior homeowners from property tax increase beyond their means that results in displacement.
- Vacant Property Accountability and Equitable Code Enforcement – The City needs equitable code enforcement and slumlord and vacant property accountability. Vacant properties amid a rising homeless count are unacceptable.