Reflections on Housing Advocacy in Atlanta

Posted October 31, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
The image is an outdoor shot of four units in a housing complex. The units have white siding exteriors and are positioned close to each other.

As part of its com­mit­ment to sta­ble, afford­able hous­ing in Atlanta, the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion invests in hous­ing advo­ca­cy in the city and through­out the state of Geor­gia. Recent­ly, sev­er­al Casey-sup­port­ed hous­ing advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tions were asked to reflect on their work to expand afford­able hous­ing in Atlanta and pre­vent long­time Geor­gia res­i­dents from evic­tion or displacement.

Our hous­ing advo­ca­cy part­ners in Geor­gia have made incred­i­ble progress in recent years adapt­ing to a rapid­ly shift­ing real estate land­scape,” says Aman­da Jaquez, a senior asso­ciate with the Casey Foundation’s Atlanta Civic Site. These groups often advo­cate for the peo­ple who can’t be in the room when impor­tant deci­sions are made. They raise aware­ness of how hous­ing pol­i­cy affects our dai­ly lives, but they also work to find solu­tions so that we can even­tu­al­ly have a hous­ing mar­ket that works for everyone.”

Meet the Grantees

Abun­dant Hous­ing Atlanta (AHA)

Recent vic­to­ry: Led efforts to increase res­i­dent par­tic­i­pa­tion in the city’s zon­ing rewrite process.

Geor­gia Advanc­ing Com­mu­ni­ties Togeth­er (Geor­gia ACT)

Recent vic­to­ry: Advanced ten­ant pro­tec­tion leg­is­la­tion through the Geor­gia House of Representatives.

Geor­gia Sup­port­ive Hous­ing Asso­ci­a­tion (GSHA)

Recent vic­to­ry: Advo­cat­ed for increased fund­ing for Atlanta’s Hous­ing Choice Vouch­er Pro­gram, which pro­vides hous­ing vouch­ers and case man­agers to home­less peo­ple with men­tal illnesses.


Recent vic­to­ry: Released 23 pol­i­cy rec­om­men­da­tions for hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty from its 200-mem­ber pol­i­cy work­ing group.

Hous­ing Jus­tice League (HJL)

Recent vic­to­ry: Pro­duced a man­u­al to help renters bet­ter under­stand and nav­i­gate the evic­tion process.

Hous­ing Advo­ca­cy in Atlanta Q&A

How has the hous­ing land­scape in Atlanta changed in recent years?

John­son (HJL): To talk about how hous­ing in Atlanta has changed, we have to go back sev­er­al decades. The prepa­ra­tion for the 1996 Olympics led to the wide­spread demo­li­tion of pub­lic hous­ing in Atlanta. Today, we still see peo­ple who earn low­er wages unable to find hous­ing they can afford. We see mul­ti­ple fam­i­lies liv­ing togeth­er in one home out of neces­si­ty. Those who want to buy their own home find it dif­fi­cult because of the lack of diver­si­ty in Atlanta’s hous­ing stock.

Keis­er (House­ATL): Atlanta has expe­ri­enced strong pop­u­la­tion growth in recent years, and our afford­able hous­ing sup­ply has been declin­ing as prices increase. This pop­u­la­tion growth has exac­er­bat­ed pan­dem­ic-relat­ed issues such as sup­ply chain dis­rup­tions, per­mit­ting slow-downs, labor reduc­tions and gen­er­al infla­tion. Atlanta is also still recov­er­ing from the 2010 fore­clo­sure cri­sis and reces­sion, which affect­ed many real estate relat­ed busi­ness­es — includ­ing afford­able hous­ing devel­op­ers — and con­tin­ues to affect the cur­rent hous­ing market.

Hayes-Brown (Geor­gia ACT): Across the coun­try, hous­ing prices have risen dra­mat­i­cal­ly, rent prices have soared, con­struc­tion of sin­gle-fam­i­ly and mul­ti­fam­i­ly hous­ing has lagged [behind] demand and build­ing prices have increased. In metro Atlanta, homes that were once sell­ing for $100,000, $200,000 or $300,000 10 years ago are now vir­tu­al­ly nonex­is­tent. Rents have also risen dra­mat­i­cal­ly since 2015, with sharp increas­es in 2021 that have not returned to their pre-pan­dem­ic rates. At the same time, evic­tion rates in the metro area have returned to pre-pan­dem­ic levels.

App­ley (GSHA): We’ve seen increased focus on grow­ing access to hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty while address­ing racial inequity, pover­ty and the effects of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic on vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions. At the same time, the afford­able hous­ing and sup­port­ive hous­ing infra­struc­ture is not suf­fi­cient to address need, and many Atlanta res­i­dents who were pre­car­i­ous­ly housed before the pan­dem­ic have been pushed into home­less­ness as the rental mar­ket became more expensive.

Brown (AHA): The Fed­er­al Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Home Own­er­ship Afford­abil­i­ty Mon­i­tor clear­ly shows dete­ri­o­ra­tion in hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty for met­ro­pol­i­tan Atlanta. The good news is that pol­i­cy­mak­ers are tak­ing note, and Atlanta May­or Andre Dick­ens is mak­ing a com­mit­ment to cre­ate 20,000 afford­able homes. How­ev­er, [these kinds of] com­mit­ments can’t hap­pen with­out com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers call­ing for more hous­ing and a more afford­able, inclu­sive Atlanta.

How is your orga­ni­za­tion help­ing to address the hous­ing chal­lenges fam­i­lies face in Atlanta?

Brown (AHA): We work to iden­ti­fy and advance pol­i­cy solu­tions that will unlock more homes, espe­cial­ly afford­able homes. This includes legal­iz­ing small­er homes — which allows for more homes with access to near­by tran­sit — and speed­ing up the process of grant­i­ng pub­lic sub­si­dies to high-impact hous­ing projects. We also work to edu­cate mem­bers of the pub­lic about how to use their civic pow­er to call for these and oth­er solutions.

Hayes-Brown (Geor­gia ACT): With a focus on racial equi­ty, we advo­cate for state and fed­er­al pol­i­cy changes to increase access to safe and afford­able hous­ing. To do this, Geor­gia ACT part­ners with non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tions to devel­op and pur­sue pol­i­cy changes that increase access to hous­ing, strength­en hous­ing poli­cies and increase resources to sup­port hous­ing affordability.

App­ley (GSHA): GSHA is work­ing to increase aware­ness of the need for sup­port­ive hous­ing pro­grams for peo­ple who are unhoused, peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, seniors, vet­er­ans, those who are re-enter­ing the com­mu­ni­ty from the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem and oth­er vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions. We also work to inform leg­is­la­tors, local stake­hold­ers and mem­bers of the pub­lic of the val­ue and cost-effec­­tive­­ness of per­ma­nent sup­port­ive hous­ing as a means of address­ing homelessness.

Beyond rais­ing aware­ness, we ana­lyze the effects of zon­ing poli­cies that lim­it access to sup­port­ive hous­ing in vio­la­tion of the Amer­i­cans With Dis­abil­i­ties Act and the Fair Hous­ing Act.

Keis­er (House­ATL): HouseATL’s mem­bers advance our mis­sion through work­ing groups that cul­ti­vate part­ner­ships across sec­tors. These work­ing groups are help­ing to devel­op local and state poli­cies around afford­able hous­ing, pre­vent­ing dis­place­ment with­in Atlanta com­mu­ni­ties and increas­ing home­own­er­ship among low-to-mod­­er­ate income house­holds, par­tic­u­lar­ly Black and brown fam­i­lies who have his­tor­i­cal­ly low­er own­er­ship rates.

John­son (HJL): Broad­ly, we can show up in spaces that many researchers and pol­i­cy mak­ers can’t. Hous­ing Jus­tice League is a com­­mu­ni­­ty-led orga­ni­za­tion, and because many of our mem­bers have expe­ri­enced hous­ing inse­cu­ri­ty our­selves, we can bring lived expe­ri­ence to what we do.

One spe­cif­ic way we’re help­ing to address hous­ing issues in Atlanta is our work to strength­en ten­ants’ rights asso­ci­a­tions. This includes help­ing ten­ants orga­nize and know the rights they have under the law so they can fight together.

Giv­en these chal­lenges, what are some of your biggest recent accomplishments?

Brown (AHA): Our over­whelm­ing influ­ence on the recent Atlanta zon­ing rewrite process was a big win. This is typ­i­cal­ly a dry process that flies under the radar of most res­i­dents, but we drew extra atten­tion to it through our net­work and pro­vid­ed more than half of the sur­vey respons­es dur­ing the com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment process.

Hayes-Brown (Geor­gia ACT): We have advanced ten­ant pro­tec­tion leg­is­la­tion through the Geor­gia House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives that would cre­ate a war­ran­ty of hab­it­abil­i­ty for renters, a notice and right to cure pre-evic­­tion fil­ing and a cap on secu­ri­ty deposits. We’re strength­en­ing this leg­is­la­tion and hope to help pass it into law in 2024.

Geor­gia ACT also sup­port­ed leg­is­la­tion to address the needs of the unhoused and pre­vent the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of home­less­ness. Last­ly, we advo­cat­ed for stronger hous­ing and home­less­ness ini­tia­tives using Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan fund­ing as well as improved dis­tri­b­u­tion of fed­er­al emer­gency rental assis­tance funds.

App­ley (GSHA): In 2023, we advo­cat­ed for a $1.9 mil­lion fund­ing increase for the hous­ing choice vouch­er pro­gram that was adopt­ed by the [Geor­gia] gen­er­al assem­bly. This is an ini­tia­tive that pro­vides state-fund­ed hous­ing vouch­ers and case man­agers to home­less peo­ple with severe and per­sis­tent men­tal ill­ness. While the gov­er­nor opt­ed to with­hold this fund­ing in 2023, the Geor­gia Depart­ment of Behav­ioral Health and Devel­op­men­tal Dis­abil­i­ties is rec­om­mend­ing he and the leg­is­la­ture adopt this increase in 2024.

John­son (HJL): We are proud of the orga­niz­ing we did to help res­i­dents fac­ing dis­place­ment dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. We cre­at­ed a man­u­al for com­mu­ni­ties to bet­ter under­stand and nav­i­gate the evic­tion process. Many of the res­i­dents who reached out to us were able to fight their evic­tion and stay in their homes.

We also raised aware­ness around ten­ants’ right to coun­sel. Many renters are unaware of that right, and Hous­ing Jus­tice League suc­cess­ful­ly advo­cat­ed for leg­is­la­tion that pro­vides legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion for those going through an evic­tion. The pro­gram is fund­ed by the [afford­able] hous­ing trust fund for the city of Atlanta.

Keis­er (House­ATL): House­ATL has grown to 357 mem­bers, and our pol­i­cy work­ing group has 200 par­tic­i­pants. Our mem­ber­ship recent­ly draft­ed 23 strate­gic rec­om­men­da­tions for hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty as a call to action for Atlanta’s lead­ers, which will shape our work going for­ward. The guid­ance included:

  • reduc­ing the prop­er­ty tax bur­den for low-income homeowners;
  • sup­port­ing ded­i­cat­ed rev­enue sources for hous­ing trust funds;
  • enhanc­ing and pro­tect­ing renters’ rights; and
  • state leg­is­la­tion enabling local prop­er­ty tax exemp­tions for income-restric­t­ed mul­ti-fam­i­­ly rental housing.

While Atlanta has seen sig­nif­i­cant hous­ing growth in recent years, stud­ies show 4 out of 10 house­holds in the metro area make less than $45,000 per year — as house prices have dou­bled. In many areas, hous­ing costs account for over 40% of Atlanta res­i­dents’ month­ly income.

Learn how the Andrew P. Stew­art Cen­ter helps Atlanta res­i­dents find afford­able housing

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