Abrams’ affordable housing plan targets predatory landlords

Credit: Arvin Temkar / AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar / AJC

Democrat Stacey Abrams says she would hold predatory landlords accountable for keeping families in unsafe living conditions as part of her plan to address the state’s affordable housing crisis if she’s elected governor.

Abrams’ proposal would give local code inspectors more power to go after out-of-state hedge funds and Silicon Valley firms that have been gobbling up cities’ housing and apartment stock, raising rents to luxury price points, then forcing tenants to live in dilapidated structures with little power to fight back.

Abrams cited The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s ongoing “Dangerous Dwellings” series of articles as describing in “concrete detail” what’s happening across the state in terms of rental unit habitability.

“We have so many units that are dilapidated, that are unsafe,” Abrams said. “And because of the conflation of state laws that say you have to do one thing but don’t give anyone the ability to enforce it, what happens is we end up in this endless cycle of dilapidated housing and families that are put in unsafe conditions.”

Abrams also blasted Gov. Brian Kemp, her Republican opponent, for not taking more aggressive action to curb housing inequality.

And she said she’d push legislation that would create a statewide certification of habitability, which would set minimum housing quality standards.

“Simply not being on fire should not be it,” she said. “It needs to be true habitability. It needs to be maintained, and local governments should have the ability to enforce in a timely fashion any inaction by landlords.”

A recent AJC investigation identified more than 250 complexes across metro Atlanta where violent crime and dangerous living conditions combine to make apartments all but uninhabitable.

The investigation found that at least three-fourths of the region’s most dangerous complexes belong to private equity firms and other remote investors, many of whom, in the absence of robust governmental oversight, prioritize earnings over their tenants’ well-being.

Currently, Georgia law does not explicitly require landlords to provide habitable rentals. The AJC investigation found families living in burnt-out buildings or among roaches, rats and raw sewage, while landlords’ revenues and property values skyrocketed.

Abrams said her plan would target those who have been taking advantage of the state’s weak laws and expressed confidence she would get the proposal through a Republican-controlled Legislature that hasn’t historically been friendly to affordable housing initiatives.

“Atlanta is ground zero, but if you go to Savannah, it’s happening there,” she said. “If you go to Albany, it’s happening there. If you go to Augusta, it’s happening there. It is happening across the state, and that is why I believe, for the first time, we can take legitimate action in the Legislature.”

The housing plan was only the latest in a series of policies Abrams has unveiled involving other pressing issues such as criminal justice, education and health care. The plethora of proposals contrasts with Kemp, who has yet to unveil his second-term agenda.

Her housing policy also includes a pledge to create a statewide plan to address homelessness and a promise to accelerate the distribution of more than $450 million in unspent federal emergency rental assistance funds.

She would leverage federal funds to expand the Georgia Dream program, which is designed to help first-time homeowners finance their down payment and other costs.

And she proposed an exponential boost in funding for the state affordable housing trust fund from $3 million to $32 million.

Kemp spokesman Tate Mitchell said the governor has allocated $100 million in the past year to support nonprofits that provide affordable housing and help people who are homeless.

“If Stacey Abrams wants to blame anyone for economic instability, she should start with Joe Biden and her own party,” he said. “Joe Biden, Stacey Abrams and the Democrats have championed the disastrous economic policies that created 40-year-high inflation and brought the nation to the brink of recession.”

The rollout is part of an effort to sharpen attention on an affordable housing crisis that Abrams said doesn’t get as much attention as rising inflation and high energy costs but has caused a ripple effect that is straining the state’s social fabric.

“It’s as salient and urgent as gas prices and food prices,” she said. “The challenge is that it’s not as sexy and therefore we have not heard the governor speak about it.”

Staff writer Willoughby Mariano contributed to this article.