Georgia Democrats’ bid to repeal the state’s ban on rent regulation would require a major political power shift at the Republican-heavy Gold Dome—but a federal court order to redraw gerrymandered voting maps to curb discrimination against Black voters raises the possibility that progressive housing policies could eventually gain traction in the historically right-leaning legislature.
In the upcoming legislative session, Georgia Senate Democrats plan to revive Senate Bill 125, which would rescind a 1984 law prohibiting counties and municipalities from enacting any form of rent control. The state code bans any local laws “which would regulate in any way the amount of rent to be charged for privately owned, single-family or multiple-unit residential rental property.”
With housing cost hikes outpacing wage increases, rent control advocates argue that local governments should have the power to adopt laws that cap the rate at which landlords can raise rents annually. That way, they say, low-income Georgians won’t be priced out from living near their jobs, transportation hubs, and good schools.
Opponents, including the Atlanta Apartment Association (AAA), contend that measures to cap rent prices or otherwise limit rent increases would deflate property values, reduce housing quality, and stifle tax-generating development.
“While we appreciate the discussion on the need for increased housing affordability in our state, rent control policies have proven to have counterproductive and damaging consequences,” AAA spokesperson Chelsea Juras said at a Senate Urban Affairs Committee meeting in September.
SB 125 sputtered out last year without even a committee hearing. State Rep. Viola Davis (D-Stone Mountain) told Atlanta Civic Circle that it’s unlikely to pass in the upcoming General Assembly, which begins in January. Roughly 25% of the Georgia legislature are landlords.
“Considering the political makeup of Georgia, rent control will have a difficult time making it through the legislative process,” Davis said.
But state lawmakers will convene for a special legislative session on Nov. 29 to redraw the voting maps that Judge Steve Jones of the Northern District of Georgia last month ruled violates the Voting Rights Act and disenfranchises Black voters.
The redistricting is expected to boost the voting power of Black Georgians, who make up over a third of the state’s population. The anticipated changes to state legislative districts could mean that more Democrats are elected.
“In the next two to four years, there will possibly be a flip in who controls the House,” Davis said. “We’re going to have to address the whole issue of housing affordability, whether [Republicans] want to or not.”
“It will pass,” she added of SB 125—or, rather, its future iterations. “It’s just a matter of when. Under the present administration, you won’t even get it to committee.”
But state Rep. Dale Washburn (R-Macon) said it will take more than flipping a few seats for the legislature to repeal the rent regulation ban.
“Unless the balance of power shifts dramatically, a change in rent control policy is highly unlikely,” he said.
Washburn last year led a House study committee on housing and found Georgia’s chief obstacle to housing affordability is a “supply and demand issue.”
“We are undersupplied,” he said, and that scarcity drives up prices. “That’s a big part of what’s hurting us cost-wise.”
Elizabeth Appley, a lobbyist for the Georgia Supportive Housing Association and other affordable housing advocacy groups, doesn’t foresee the state lifting the rent regulation prohibition anytime soon, either.
“What we have to do is pursue meaningful strategies that will increase access to affordable housing in Georgia,” she said, noting that the state has a nearly $11 billion budget surplus that it can spend however lawmakers see fit.
Nationwide, Appley said, “Georgia is an outlier in failing to provide even basic tenant protections … and we need to invest more funds in the creation of safe and affordable housing.”
Despite the legislative challenges, Appley holds out hope for enacting rent regulation, as more legislators realize that the dearth of affordable units affects everyone. “There is a heightened awareness of the relationship between housing and strong communities,” the lobbyist said. “We are at a crisis point.”
Georgia State University urban studies professor Dan Immergluck echoed Appley’s call to dedicate a “significant chunk” of the state’s massive budget surplus to affordable housing initiatives. He also expressed skepticism that redistricting would increase the legislature’s appetite for progressive housing laws.
“Even if Dems gained a modest majority, some Dems are close to real estate interests and would possibly not support [repealing the rent regulation ban],” Immergluck said in an email. “The key to doing this is strong, statewide tenant organizing to be able to put pressure on legislators—of both parties—to make this change.”