It looks like Atlanta may borrow an innovative page from Charlotte’s fair housing playbook: Atlanta City Councilmember Liliana Bakhtirai on Monday introduced legislation that would require publicly subsidized complexes to accept Section 8 housing vouchers—mimicking an ordinance our North Carolina neighbors passed this summer.
After Atlanta Civic Circle reported in July that Atlanta’s most vulnerable renters could benefit from a law like Charlotte’s, the Nov. 7 city council meeting brought that idea under serious consideration.
“At a time when rents are soaring, inflation is ballooning, and a fragile tenant support system is on the brink, we should be opening doors to responsible renters, not shutting them out,” Bakhtirai said in an announcement.
Atlanta councilmembers tried to prevent landlords from discriminating against renters using Section 8 vouchers in 2020, when they adopted broader legislation requiring all intown landlords to accept the vouchers as rent payment—something many refuse to do due to stigma against lower-income renters.
However, local attorneys and housing experts told Atlanta Civic Circle in July that the ordinance was legally unenforceable because it conflicted with state laws that bar municipalities from creating fair housing laws broader than the state’s.
Bakhtirai’s resolution is different, because it applies only to landlords receiving public subsidies, like tax breaks. It calls on public agencies, including Atlanta Housing, Invest Atlanta, the Atlanta Beltline, MARTA, and the Fulton County Development Authority, to insert provisions in subsidy agreements with landlords requiring them to accept federally funded Section 8 vouchers as rent payment.
Bakhtiari told Atlanta Civic Circle that those agencies are all on board and that the resolution, if ratified, would reduce source-of-income discrimination—the entirely legal practice of turning away would-be renters because they receive government help to pay their rent.
Right now, many people who receive Atlanta Housing (AH) vouchers end up returning them to the housing authority, because they can’t find an apartment that accepts them, AH’s CEO, Eugene Jones, told Atlanta Civic Circle. “They can’t find units in proximity to their jobs, or near better schools in a better neighborhood, because the landlords won’t accept Section 8 vouchers,” he said.
Bakhtiari’s legislation would produce a “definite increase” in the number of people served by AH, which has a waitlist of over 24,000 people seeking housing, Jones said.
To reduce that waitlist even more, the Atlanta housing chief added, the state legislature should pass legislation requiring all private landlords to accept government housing vouchers.
The housing voucher resolution now heads to the council’s Community Development and Human Services Committee on Nov. 15 and then its Finance/Executive Committee on Nov. 16. If both committees approve it, Bakhtiari’s legislation could go to a full-council vote as early as Nov. 21.
Because of the support from Atlanta’s many public agencies that subsidize apartment complex owners, Bakhtiari said, “I expect it to pass with flying colors.”