A Sandy Springs advocacy group is holding an Oct. 8 forum about racial equity and affordable housing for candidates in four local state House races. So far, only the Democratic candidates are scheduled to participate. 

Donna Lowry of Georgia Public Broadcasting will moderate the discussion, hosted by Sandy Springs Together, with the candidates in House Districts 45, 51, 52 and 80, according to a news release from the nonprofit organization. Lowry is GPB’s Capitol correspondent.

The forum topic will be the role state government can have to advance racial equity and affordable housing in Georgia.

Sandy Springs Together is an advocacy group prioritizing “safe, walkable neighborhoods, with housing options affordable for everyone.” The group is led by David and Melanie Couchman, a couple who have been involved in promoting redevelopment plans in the North End that include affordable housing, and who have given campaign contributions to some of the candidates involved in the forum.

Candidates will participate through a private Zoom virtual conference, with the event live-streamed to the public via Facebook.com/SandySpringsTogether. 

All candidates were invited, according to Melanie Couchman, but only Democrats have confirmed so far. They include: Sara Ghazal, House District 45; incumbent Rep. Josh McLaurin, House District 51; Shea Roberts, House District 52; and incumbent Rep. Matthew Wilson, House District 80.

The Republican candidates in those districts are: incumbent Rep. Matt Dollar, House District 45; Alex Kaufman, House District 51; incumbent Rep. Deborah Silcox, House District 52; and Alan Cole, House District 80.

David Couchman made two contributions totaling $500 to Roberts in this campaign cycle, according to candidate financial reports filed with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. Melanie Couchman contributed $1,000 to Roberts in two donations. And she contributed $500 to Ghazal.

Sandy Springs Together chose to have candidates discuss racial equality because it “is based in part on economic inequities going back to the days of slavery, through the years of Jim Crow and to present day,” Melanie Couchman said.

She listed economic inequalities caused by this include wages, mortgages and housing, business loans, wealth accumulation and economic stability. She said support from state legislators is necessary to make progress.

Couchman said housing prices are out of reach for first-time homeowners and middle income wage earners.

Jonathan Gelber of Bleakly Advisory Group, told the North End Revitalization Committee on Aug. 14 that 15,000 households in Sandy Springs, or nearly one-third, are cost-burdened as they spend more than 30% of household income on housing expenses. The problem gets acute for lower income groups and renters, he said. The cost-burdened households include 88% of those who earn less than $35,000, 42% of the households earning $35,000-$75,000, and 43%of all renter households.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.