Senate Democrats are gearing up to resume their longshot bid to repeal Georgia’s decades-old ban on rent regulation when state lawmakers reconvene under the Gold Dome in less than four months.
The bill stalled in March without a vote in either the Georgia House or Senate, locked out by a Republican-controlled legislature that historically has had little appetite for progressive housing policies. What’s more, a sizeable percentage of Georgia lawmakers are landlords.
In the upcoming General Assembly, James intends to hammer home the idea that the state’s affordable housing crisis is nonpartisan and affects all Georgians, she said at a Sept. 14 meeting of the Senate’s Urban Affairs Committee. James chairs the Democrat-led committee.
“We’re going to make sure that we look at this not only as a problem throughout Georgia, but also throughout the nation,” James said. ”Without a cap placed on rent, costs skyrocket.”
“We are attempting to lift the ban so that municipalities and counties can be able to take care of their residents,” she added.
Affordable housing advocates told the Urban Affairs committee that capping rent prices or limiting rent increases could prevent price gouging, stem evictions, and allow more people to secure stable housing.
But lobbyists for landlords claimed any rent stabilization statutes would sink property values, decimate housing quality and stifle tax-generating development.
The committee also heard from a number of low-income renters and their family members, who shared stories of landlords doubling—or even tripling—rent when their leases expired.
Jodie Willliams said her daughter, an Emory University student, now lives with five roommates. She and her roommates opted to pack their house when rent went up, instead of being forced to move out of town.
Many others don’t have that luxury, she said, and end up without homes. “These people in tent cities, they don’t want to leave Atlanta.”
Mableton resident Alonzo Williams, who looks after his elderly, disabled mother, said he was on his way to buying the home he rented for them when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
The rent more than doubled when the lease expired, Williams said, and their landlord filed for eviction.
“How are we ever going to get out from underneath the weight of renting? How can we be homeowners if we don’t have any sort of legislation that prevents us from being homeless?” he asked. “We just want to be treated like people.”
Landlord versus renter perspectives
SB 125’s supporters claim repealing the statewide ban on rent regulation would empower local governments to temper exorbitant rent increases. In Georgia, there is no limit to how much landlords can hike prices from lease to lease.
But Stephen Davis, the lobbyist for the Georgia Apartment Association, said the legislative push is misguided, even though “the idea of rent control may appear an attractive solution to the affordable housing crisis.”
Davis said any type of rent control or stabilization is bad for landlords and tenants alike, because it will “reduce housing supply, lower property values, and decrease the quality of available properties.”
“Adding additional housing units to the market is the best way to address the housing demand and crisis,” he said. “Simple supply and demand.”
But new housing often isn’t affordable to most people, said Elizabeth Appley, the lobbyist for the Georgia Supportive Housing Association, Enterprise Community Partners, and other housing advocacy groups.
For additional housing supply to bring down costs, she said, “it has to be the right supply.” New construction that is affordable requires government subsidies, she explained.
Meanwhile, she added, “naturally occurring affordable housing” is quickly vanishing in fast-growing cities like Atlanta. “Older properties maybe haven’t been well maintained; those are being destroyed and replaced with luxury units. This does not help the people whom we’re trying to address who have needs,” Appley said.
SB 125’s critics must realize it’s cheaper for the state to allow municipalities to regulate rents and keep people housed, instead of enabling evictions, Appley said.
“It’s relatively inexpensive to keep families safely and stably housed, as opposed to the cost of eviction,” she said, adding that displaced people are often forced to seek out government-funded services, such as welfare benefits, homeless shelters, and hospital stays.
At the start of last year’s legislative session, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said repealing the statewide ban on rent regulation and enacting local legislation to limit the rate of annual rent increases is a critical part of the solution to Atlanta’s escalating affordable housing crisis.
“We won’t be able to build our way out of this crisis,” he said at the time, because there is too much pent-up housing demand amid Atlanta’s development boom.