Atlanta officials could learn a thing or two from a fair housing policy adopted last week by their North Carolina neighbors.

The Charlotte City Council passed legislation on July 14 that prohibits apartment complexes benefitting from city subsidies from discriminating based on income source by disqualifying renters using Section 8 or other rent subsidies—and fines them when they violate the law.

The new ordinance is similar to one championed by Atlanta City Councilmember Amir Farokhi and former councilmember Antonio Brown in 2020, but Charlotte’s anti-discrimination policy appears legally enforceable, unlike the local one.

Atlanta’s law is more broad–barring all landlords from refusing government-subsidized rent payments–but attorneys told Atlanta Civic Circle earlier this month that it’s illegal. That’s because it conflicts with a state law that prohibits local goverments from expanding the state’s fair housing code, which doesn’t prohibit discrimination based on renters’ income source. 

Could the Atlanta City Council make its effort to protect lower-income renters enforceable by taking a page from Charlotte’s playbook?

Instead of trying to mandate that all landlords must accept housing vouchers—a policy that would demand serious political will in the Georgia legislature to enact statewide—Atlanta city officials could more narrowly focus their legislation to target only residential properties owned, managed, or subsidized by city agencies, such as Atlanta Beltline, Inc., Invest Atlanta, and Atlanta Housing, as the new Charlotte law does. 

Charlotte’s law also allows the city to levy fines against landlords who skirt it and turn away voucher holders. 

Violators will first receive a written warning and be required to undergo “mandatory compliance training,” according to the Charlotte Observer. After that, the city will fine scofflaw landlords $500 a day until the matter is resolved—plus mandate more training. For a third violation, landlords are considered in default on their city subsidy deals and get a short grace period to cure the violation.

Housing experts have called Atlanta’s attempt to prevent discrimination based on source of income forward-thinking, but adopting Charlotte’s new approach could spur legislation with real teeth.

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