A months-long back-and-forth between Atlanta’s public housing authority and a luxury apartment landlord has imperiled the housing stability of several low-income renters living in increasingly expensive Old Fourth Ward, according to documents obtained by Atlanta Civic Circle through the Georgia Open Records Act.
When real estate investor Carter-Haston, headquartered in Nashville, bought the EDGE on the Beltline apartment complex in January from another investor, the Ohio-based Connor Group, the Section 8 rent voucher agreements that have allowed six tenants to live in the high-rent building fell into bureaucratic limbo.
Carter-Haston and Atlanta Housing (AH) have bickered for months over completing the required paperwork for the new owner to continue EDGE on the Beltline’s participation in AH’s Section 8 program. It’s still unclear whether the deal could be salvaged.
“That’s still to be determined,” Carter-Haston asset manager Zachary Mitchell told Atlanta Civic Circle on Wednesday. “Right now, it’s fifty-fifty.”
Anita Byrd, an AH portfolio administrator, emailed Carter-Haston in early February, seeking paperwork that would allow EDGE’s new owner to continue the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) participation from the Connor Group, records show.
What followed was an increasingly tense email volley between AH and Carter-Haston that has left some of EDGE’s most marginalized residents concerned that they will lose their apartments at the high-end, Beltline-straddling development.
In April, Carter-Haston asked AH to help both itself and the residents using Section 8 vouchers to navigate reapplying for the HCVP—a requirement when a property changes hands—but to no avail.
On June 6, EDGE community manager Jennifer Reeves-Inthisane told AH in an email, “Our owners are considering canceling the program.” Byrd, at AH, responded a few hours later, saying she was “deeply saddened” to hear Carter-Haston might stop participating in the voucher program.
EDGE’s landlord sent lease termination notices to the six Section 8 tenants on June 15, telling them they’d need to move out by Aug. 31.
For a few weeks, Carter-Haston staff “desperately” tried to reach AH officials “via phone and email with no luck,” according to a June 21 email Reeves-Inthisane sent to AH.
After radio silence from AH for another week, the EDGE community manager followed up on June 28: “This is becoming completely ridiculous.”
The same day, Reeves-Inthisane notified Byrd that Carter-Haston was gearing up to terminate the leases for the Section 8 residents, because it had not received payment from AH for its half of their rents since the property changed hands, due to the snafu.
All the while, Section 8 renters like Marcus Dede, who moved into EDGE in 2019, have been ensnared in the turmoil, unsure of whether they’ll be able to keep a roof over their heads.
What happens to the renters?
At least until Aug. 31, the rent voucher recipients are still living at EDGE, AH spokesperson LaConia Dean told Atlanta Civic Circle. The housing authority is still hoping Carter-Haston will have a change of heart, file the requisite paperwork—“authorizing us to resume payment on behalf of the families”—and renew the Section 8 agreements, she said.
Soon after AH approved Dede for Section 8 benefits, he found EDGE “due to looking through a haystack with the tiniest needle for an apartment that accepted the housing choice voucher,” he told Atlanta Civic Circle in an email.
For the past three years, the apartment has seemed like a godsend. But then, on June 15, Dede received a letter from Carter-Haston’s attorney notifying him that he must move out before September.
“Our client is terminating the lease agreement for other good cause, as they are no longer participating in the Section 8 program,” it read.
Dede said he immediately went to the leasing office to speak with Reeves-Inthisane, but she couldn’t tell him much about why Carter-Haston was terminating its participation in the voucher program. Instead, she could only suggest that he and other Section 8 renters apply for the one of the 36 below-market-rate apartments EDGE offers as part of the city’s inclusionary zoning policy.
Dede said there was no way he could afford that. At EDGE, the units with discounted rent are still priced at 80% of the area median income, according to AH documents.
“Which would make a unit like my 560-square-foot unit $1,350, and I’d of course have to make three times that, when the whole point of me being on the Section 8 voucher program is that I don’t make that much a month to afford that price,” Dede said.
“As this was unfolding, I tried to do my best to find other apartments that would accept it, but still, of course, it’s like a very small needle in a very big haystack,” he added.
Dean, the AH spokesperson, said that if Carter-Haston ultimately decides to back out of participating in the voucher program, “AH will work with the families to find other suitable housing and will ensure that these families are continuously housed.”
Can landlords be forced to take vouchers?
Lower-income EDGE tenants like Dede are not the only ones at risk of losing their housing as rents continue to spike in metro-Atlanta.
Low and moderate-income renters all over the city are finding it increasingly difficult to secure an affordable apartment, even with public subsidies like Section 8 vouchers or requirements that landlords set aside a few residences at below-market rent in exchange for permission to build more units.
When EDGE’s Section 8 renters first raised concerns that they could be booted in June, Atlanta City Councilmember Amir Farokhi sent Carter-Haston a letter accusing EDGE’s new landlord of violating a city anti-discrimination ordinance that seeks to prohibit landlords from turning away rent voucher holders.
However, the city law isn’t legally enforceable, because it clashes with state law, attorneys who are experts in housing law subsequently told Atlanta Civic Circle in July.
The City of Charlotte recently adopted its own ordinance requiring landlords to accept rent vouchers—but it appears to be actually enforceable, because, unlike Atlanta’s, the requirement applies only to properties that benefit from public subsidies, like tax breaks.
Such a measure might not help EDGE’s Section 8 tenants keep their apartments, but it could go a long way toward making Atlanta a more welcoming place to live for people who rely on government help to stay housed.