Group calls for action on affordable housing ‘crisis’ in Atlanta

A group of housing activists on Tuesday delivered a report to Atlanta City Hall and called for new policies to help renters and homeowners squeezed by rising housing costs and stagnant wages.

The Housing Justice League issued a report from a group of Georgia Tech researchers that found the city has lost 5 percent of its affordable units every year since 2012 and that virtually all new apartments since that time have been considered luxury. The report further stated that more than half of all renters in the city limits pay greater than 30 percent of their income on housing, a threshold that many housing advocates say is a sign of stress if exceeded.

It follows a recent study authored by Georgia Tech professor Dan Immergluck and Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta researchers detailing soaring rents coinciding with a decline in affordable units in eight Southern cities, including Atlanta.

Deborah Arnold, a member of the Housing Justice League called for codes to make eviction safer and more humane, rent controls and other government intervention to aid working-class people from forces such as gentrification.

“We must take actions to ensure residents in gentrifying neighborhoods most at-risk for displacement are able to afford and ultimately enjoy the rising economic fortunes of those areas,” Arnold said.

Speakers at the rally linked the city’s issues of affordable housing into calls for hikes to the minimum wage as well as to issues of racial and income inequality at the center of five days of Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Atlanta.

Mayor Kasim Reed has said affordable housing is a priority, and the mayor has said he wants to avoid the affordable housing crunch seen in cities like San Francisco and New York.

City Councilman Andre Dickens has led an effort for well over a year to draft and enact “inclusionary zoning” that would put requirements on developers to include affordable units in larger scale projects. The city’s economic development agency, Invest Atlanta, also offers tax breaks to developers in exchange for setting aside units for residents making 80 percent of the area’s median income.

The city also has down payment assistance programs and other ventures to help lower-income residents.

Reed’s office declined further comment on the matter.

The Development Authority of Fulton County, which also offers developers certain tax breaks on real estate projects in the city and other parts of the county, has no such affordability requirement in place.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, a frequent critic of Reed who could enter next year’s mayoral race, bashed City Hall, saying leaders have not shown the will to enact stronger policies for working-class people.

Fort said the inclusionary zoning effort “is a good first step.”

Inclusionary zoning, examining tax breaks to make them geared toward developing and retaining more affordable units are among the issues that must be looked at both by city leaders and the state, Fort said.

“We need to do more,” he said.

Members of the housing group presented their report to council members and will be part of a hearing on housing issues at City Hall on July 19.