Georgia Democrats are preparing for a tough fight over rent regulation

Senate Democrats are preparing to continue their long-term push to repeal Georgia’s decades-long rent regulation ban when state lawmakers reconvene under the Gold Dome in less than four months.

State Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, proposed Senate Bill 125 last February to repeal a 1984 law that prohibits Georgia counties and municipalities from taking action to regulate rents.

The bill stalled in March without a vote in the Georgia House or Senate and was blocked by a Republican-controlled Legislature that has historically shown little interest in progressive housing policy. Additionally, a significant percentage of Georgia legislators are landlords.

In the upcoming General Session, James wants to make clear that the state’s affordable housing crisis is nonpartisan and affects all Georgians, she said at a Sept. 14 meeting of the Senate Urban Affairs Committee. James is chairman of the Democratic-led committee.

“We’re going to make sure we look at this not just as a problem across Georgia, but across the country,” James said. “Without capping rents, costs will rise.”

“We are trying to lift the ban so that municipalities and counties can 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, curb evictions and allow more people to secure stable housing.

But landlord lobbyists claimed that any rent stabilization laws would drive down property values, decimate housing quality and stifle tax-generating development.

The committee also heard from a number of low-income tenants and their family members who shared stories of landlords doubling or even tripling their rent when their leases expired.

Jodie Willliams said her daughter, an Emory University student, now lives with five roommates. She and her roommates decided to pack up their house when the rent went up rather than be forced to leave town.

Many others don’t have that luxury, she said, and end up homeless. “These people in tent cities don’t want to leave Atlanta.”

Mableton resident Alonzo Williams, who cares for his elderly, disabled mother, said he was on his way to buying the home he was renting for her when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The rent more than doubled when the lease expired, Williams said, and her landlord filed for eviction.

“How will we ever get out of the burden of rent? How can we be homeowners if there is no legislation to prevent us from becoming homeless?” he asked. “We just want to be treated like human beings.”

Perspectives of landlords and tenants

Supporters of SB 125 claim that lifting the statewide ban on rent control would enable local governments to rein in exorbitant rent increases. In Georgia, there is no limit to how much landlords can increase prices from lease to lease.

But Stephen Davis, lobbyist for the Georgia Apartment Association, said the legislative push was misguided, even though “the idea of ​​rent control might seem like an attractive solution to the affordable housing crisis.”

Davis said any type of rent control or stabilization would be bad for both landlords and tenants because it would “decrease housing supply, reduce property values ​​and reduce the quality of properties available.”

“Creating additional housing units on the market is the best way to address housing demand and the crisis,” he said. “Simple supply and demand.”

But new housing is often not affordable for most people, said Elizabeth Appley, a lobbyist for the Georgia Supportive Housing Association, Enterprise Community Partners and other housing advocacy groups.

In order for additional housing supply to reduce costs, it has to be “the right offer,” she said. Affordable new construction requires government subsidies, she explained.

Meanwhile, she added, “naturally occurring affordable housing” is quickly disappearing in fast-growing cities like Atlanta. “Older properties may not have been well maintained; These will be destroyed and replaced with luxury units. “That doesn’t help the people we’re trying to reach and who have needs,” Appley said.

Critics of SB 125 need to realize that it is cheaper for the state to allow municipalities to regulate rents and house people rather than allow evictions, Appley said.

“It is relatively inexpensive to house families in a safe and stable manner, as opposed to the cost of eviction,” she said, adding that displaced people are often forced to use government-funded services such as welfare, homeless shelters and hospitalization.

At the start of last year’s legislative session, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said lifting the statewide ban on rent regulation and passing local laws limiting the annual rate of rent increases was a critical part of the solution to Atlanta’s escalating affordable housing crisis.

“We will not be able to emerge from this crisis,” he said at the time, because there is too much pent-up demand for housing given Atlanta’s development boom.