Pre-COVID-19, the lack of affordable housing for low-income households was nothing new in cities across the country. Over the last decade, Atlanta’s affordable housing situation has gotten worse. Contributing factors include large development projects like the Beltline, encouraging gentrification and the loss of affordable housing units – including all the city’s traditional public housing. In an Atlanta Magazine 2019 article penned by Dan Immergluck of the Urban Studies Institute, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment increased between 45 and 60 percent since 2013.
Very low-income renters – defined as 50 percent or less of the Area Median Income (AMI) – can pay more than half their monthly income on rent, making them the most vulnerable to housing instability, quality and eviction. According to Immergluck, Atlanta ranks 5th out of 70 large cities in the U.S. on eviction filings. Add to this the dramatically rising property taxes in gentrifying areas, making it difficult for lower income homeowners to pay and maintain their properties, as well as landlords selling off affordable apartment complexes to luxury developers. All this disproportionately affects Atlanta’s Black residents – disrupting the City’s Civil Rights legacy and its status as the “Black Mecca”.
Enter the COVID-19 pandemic. Atlantans have been laid off, others contracted the virus and cannot work, and shelter-in-place orders have either partially or totally shut down many businesses, large and small. Georgia unemployment claims topped 1.3 million last week. Governor Kemp recently lifted the statewide shelter-in-place order. Some businesses have reopened, but far from all.
On April 14, 2020, Atlanta’s City Council ratified Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ 60-day eviction moratorium for properties owned by the city or its housing authority. On May 4, 2020, the Georgia Supreme Court implemented ‘Rule 46’ requiring landlords to submit an affidavit of proof that the property in question is exempt from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) (Public Law No. 116-136) eviction moratorium. Any property receiving federal housing subsidies – Project-based Section 8, Housing Choice Vouchers, Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) or federally-back mortgages from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac cannot evict tenants for non-payment.
Evictions notices continue and landlords are turning to “self-help” evictions (landlords retaking properties outside of the legal eviction process). The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) has created a much needed database of most multifamily properties subject to the CARES moratorium.
On April 29, 2020, CityRootsATL held a Housing Crisis Zoom Town Hall Meeting. CityRootsATL is a grassroots housing organization committed to advocating for very low-income residents here. During the meeting, Fulton County’s Chief Magistrate Judge Cassandra Kirk emphasized that neither of these moratoriums involves rent payment relief. There was also consensus among panelists that COVID-19 should be defined as a natural disaster and stabilization renter subsidies (like the federal Disaster Housing Assistance Program) are needed to provide low-income households rent relief.
Without intervention, this country will not only continue dealing with a pandemic but a tsunami of evictions and serial displacements as well. Perhaps capitalism should be put up for rent. Free market principles have done little to curb the tide of the pandemic or evictions and hardship. Or perhaps capitalism simply needs to be evicted for a better, more responsible tenant.