Sky-high rent is pricing Georgians out

My heart aches for every Georgian affected by high rents and predatory rent increases

Georgia is losing its way as the No. 1 state to live, work and raise a family. This is because our state’s most vulnerable are being unfairly and disproportionately priced out of housing.

Consider Leron Thomas, a student at Morehouse College. He embodies the heartbreak experienced by many Georgians facing housing insecurity. His story, featured in Capitol B Atlanta, highlights the dire consequences of being priced out of housing. In the summer of 2023, Leron’s excitement for his fifth semester at Morehouse was dashed when he couldn’t afford a place to live, forcing him to leave Georgia and delay his education. But the housing crisis isn’t confined to Morehouse. Students across metro Atlanta universities such as my alma mater, Morris Brown University, and others, including Georgia Tech University, Georgia State University, Emory University and the Atlanta University Center, which includes Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University, grapple with the same challenges.

We can’t turn a blind eye while students like Leron sacrifice their education for lack of a place to sleep. The inability to afford housing jeopardizes their academic success, as confirmed by surveys from groups like the National Association of Realtors. Shockingly, more than a third of college students surveyed couldn’t afford rent in their college town.

Credit: Photo contributed by the candidate

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Credit: Photo contributed by the candidate

But rent affordability doesn’t just affect students. The average price of rent in the United States was more than $1,900 per month in April. It’s no wonder, then, that one emergency requiring a small amount of money has the ability to push people of all ages, races and experiences into a housing crisis, including homelessness. And, because statistics from The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s collaboration with the Point in Time Project reveal that approximately 83% of the homeless population surveyed in Atlanta is Black, it’s an equity issue, too.

My heart aches for every Georgian affected by high rents and predatory rent increases. I’m committed to holding landlords, including corporate landlords, accountable for pricing Georgians out of their opportunity for a stable life. Some landlords are proposing excessive rent increases that can lead to evictions and unrenewed leases when renters can’t afford the increase.

(And it’s not just renters: Homeowners associations are also a problem. Far too often, HOAs impose outrageous fees that can lead to foreclosure when as little as $2,000 is unpaid.)

One solution lies in proactive legislation, such as Senate Bill 125, which I championed in the 2023 and 2024 legislative sessions. Though the bill failed to make it through the legislative session, it would have repealed the 1984 statewide ban on rent control and was pivotal in renewing the conversations around increased tenants’ rights, curbing HOA foreclosures and empowering local governments to implement tailored rent control policies. By promoting affordable housing and preventing displacement, we can foster economic diversity and ensure a brighter future for all Georgians. As a Black woman deeply rooted in the metro Atlanta community, it pains me to witness Black, student, senior and veteran Georgians struggle to afford basic housing through no fault of their own.

There’s still much work to be done, and I am continuing to work each day to lift the 1984 statewide ban on rent control. My mission is to let counties and municipalities decide how they want to address the issue for their citizens. Bipartisan support is crucial for progress on this issue, and I’m optimistic that the tide is turning in our favor. Each day, I am inspired by the number of legislators of both parties lining up in support of this issue. This is a people’s issue, and as representatives of the people, it is our job to see this issue through.

Donzella James, a Democrat, is chair of the Committee on Urban Affairs in the Georgia Senate, where she represents parts of Douglas and Fulton counties.