To combat the housing crisis facing many middle- and lower-income Georgians, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp wants to help people get good jobs, and Stacey Abrams, his Democratic challenger, wants to reform the state laws that impede denser residential development and restrict local governments’ ability to write their own fair housing laws.

Housing issues have been a rarity in this election season’s gubernatorial showdown, but they made a cameo during Sunday’s candidate debate: WSB-TV journalist and moderator Candace Pressley asked both Abrams and Kemp how they planned to create more affordable housing in Georgia. 

Much of Georgia’s housing challenges “deals with zoning issues and other things that go on at the local level,” Kemp said at the Oct. 30 debate. “My focus is on making sure that people have a good-paying job.”

But even if the governor could create stable jobs paying a living wage for all Georgians, Abrams countered, it wouldn’t address the other variables—namely zoning hurdles and income disparities—that determine whether and where people can afford to rent or buy homes. 

“The inability of local governments to address affordable housing is coming about because the state of Georgia will not allow them to,” she said. “It is illegal in the state of Georgia for local governments to change certain laws.”

Abrams was referring to state laws that prohibit municipalities from legislating local fair housing laws that are broader than those in effect statewide—like restrictions on passing local laws requiring landlords to accept Section 8 rent vouchers—and a recently ratified statewide measure that blocks any local efforts to rezone residential properties for denser development.

She told Atlanta Civic Circle and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for our joint Georgia Decides: 2022 Election Guide that she “will support first-time homeowners and expand the Georgia Dream Homeownship Program, dedicate funding to the [state’s] Affordable Housing Trust Fund, prohibit discrimination based on source of income (like subsidized housing vouchers), and empower local governments to protect homeowners and tenants.”

Abrams also knocked Kemp Sunday for failing to timely distribute hundreds of millions of dollars in federal emergency rental assistance money meant to prevent evictions and for turning down most applicants—issues which Atlanta Civic Circle has extensively reported.

In response, Kemp criticized Abrams’ plan to regulate landlords’ and developers’ practices and contended that reopening Georgia businesses early in the Covid-19 pandemic allowed him to repair the state’s economy—and thus restore jobs—while other states suffered.

“It sounds to me like she wants to be able to run the private-sector businesses that are out there,” he said. “But listen: The federal money we were using was because our state was open when Stacey Abrams wanted more lockdowns. We didn’t have to use federal money for lost revenues; we could just pour that money back into local communities, which is what we’ve been doing for affordable housing, for rural broadband grants, for infrastructure grants.”

Governor’s office spokesperson Andrew Isenhour clarified those comments in an email to Atlanta Civic Circle, saying Kemp had routed tens of millions of dollars in federal pandemic relief funds to address homelessness and housing insecurity.

Early voting is underway through Nov. 4, and polls re-open for Election Day next Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Watch the full debate here:

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