Nov 30, 2022 - Business

Atlanta wants more landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers

Illustration of a dollar sign made out of house keys.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The city of Atlanta has taken another step to make housing opportunities more equitable across the board, but concerns have been raised about the enforceability of the new measure.

Driving the news: City Council members last week passed a non-binding resolution that calls on developers who receive financial incentives from agencies to accept qualified people participating in the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly known as Section 8 vouchers.

  • The vouchers are reserved for families who make 50% less than the median income of the county or metro area where they live.

Sponsored by Council member Liliana Bakhtiari, the resolution also requests organizations like MARTA, Invest Atlanta, Atlanta Beltline Inc., and the Fulton County Development Authority to incorporate similar rules into its requirements for funding.

Why it matters: Atlanta, which has the highest level of income inequality in the country, has seen its affordable housing stock shrink over the last several years, and city officials and stakeholders are scrambling for solutions to stem the tide of residents getting priced out of their communities.

What they're saying: Bakhtiari told Axios that representatives from the Atlanta Housing Authority and Atlanta Legal Aid told city leaders earlier this year that developers have been buying up previously affordable properties, raising rents and stopped accepting vouchers from residents.

  • About 20,000 people who use vouchers are on the waiting list for housing that accepts them, Bakhtiari said.
  • "There was unanimous buy-in on this," she said of the resolution. "Certainly, it doesn't go far enough yet, but the fact of the matter is, this is a drastic change to what our reality was in the city just a month ago."
  • A spokesperson with Invest Atlanta told Axios that it will incorporate the actions spelled out in the resolution to its policies.

Of note: According to Atlanta Civic Circle, state law prevents local governments from enacting policies that go beyond what it allows. Georgia also doesn't ban discrimination against renters based on where they get their income, the media outlet notes.

Yes, and: Dan Immergluck, professor of urban studies at Georgia State University, says he's worried that the resolution doesn't have a way to protect residents from other forms of exclusions.

  • Even if developers do accept residents with vouchers, for example, they could also stipulate that applicants must have a certain credit score, no evictions in the last 10 years and have an income that’s three times the rent.
  • "They could just use other requirements or even make requirements stronger to effectively screen out voucher holders," he said, adding many residents with vouchers are low-income and have experienced eviction filings because they are so common in Georgia.

Immergluck also told Axios the policies should spell out what landlords can and can’t do when it comes to screening for residents, and outline what penalties could they face if they refuse to accept vouchers after accepting city subsidies.

  • He also said there should be a way to check to see if they are following the agency's rule on accepting vouchers.

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