Reflections on Housing Advocacy in Atlanta
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
Recent victory: Led efforts to increase resident participation in the city’s zoning rewrite process.
Recent victory: Advanced tenant protection legislation through the Georgia House of Representatives.
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.
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.