Atlanta City Councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari has introduced legislation that would require local landlords that receive city subsidies to accept federal housing vouchers to pay the rents for very low-income families, the elderly, and disabled.

The legislation, introduced at the council’s Nov. 7 meeting, is part of the city’s attempt to create more affordable housing as rapid development and gentrification continue to price people out of their homes. Much of the displacement is seen occurring along the Atlanta BeltLine, where developers are investing billions in residential projects with expensive rents.

Many BeltLine developers also receive property tax abatements via the city’s economic development arm, Invest Atlanta, to subsidize their costs of building mandated affordable units. However, the units are often still too expensive for many residents. Tenants at a BeltLine apartment complex in the Old Fourth Ward were recently told their vouchers would no longer be accepted.

“At a time when rents are soaring, inflation is ballooning, and a fragile tenant support system is on the brink, we should be opening doors to responsible renters, not shutting them out,” Bakhtiari said in a press release.

“This resolution goes beyond just beginning the conversation on how we can create access to housing for our community’s most vulnerable. It is an affirmative, results-oriented solution that understands the economics of the market and corrects a historic inequity,” Bakhtiari said. “I applaud our private sector partners who are proactively reviewing their policies to comply with this resolution.”

Bakhtiari quoted some statistics to support her legislation: the average monthly rent in Atlanta has soared above $1,900, outpacing inflation and an increase of nearly 15% year-to-date; Metro Atlanta received an influx of 65,000 people last year, with population gains in every county across the region; and the Department of City Planning’s Neighborhood Change Report found that growth in many neighborhoods is coupled with the displacement of low-income residents.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there are 162,000 households that qualify as low-income in Atlanta with only 43,000 units of those designated as affordable, according to Bakhtiari.

Clyde Higgs, president and CEO of Atlanta BeltLine Inc., said the organization “enthusiastically supports this game-changing legislation.”

“We’ve seen an unprecedented level of growth on and around the BeltLine,” he said in the release. “While we continue to connect all 22 miles of the trail, it’s critical that the BeltLine and associated development remains accessible to all, regardless of their socioeconomic status.”

Added Dr. Eloisa Klementich, president and CEO of Invest Atlanta: “This measure removes yet another barrier to access and supports those among us who need it most.”

Housing vouchers are distributed in the city by Atlanta Housing, a public housing agency. Eugene Jones Jr., president and CEO of Atlanta Housing, said it is responsible for 26,000 households and more than 47,000 residents.

“As the largest housing authority in the state of Georgia … we understand the urgency and severity of Atlanta’s housing crisis,” he said in the release. “Access to quality, affordable housing is a right that should be realized for all.”

The legislation, if approved by the council, would ensure renters with vouchers — essentially government-guaranteed rent payments — can find safe and decent housing in neighborhoods throughout Atlanta, said Lindsey Siegel, director of housing advocacy at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society.

“This is a major step forward for renters and housing choice,” Siegel said in the release.

Michael Lucas, executive director of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, said the proposed legislation “fundamentally transforms the landscape of Atlanta’s housing market for the better” and “destigmatizes low-income earners and allows them to freely choose where to live.”

The Community Development and Human Services Committee will consider the legislation at its Nov. 15 meeting. The Finance/Executive Committee will consider it at its Nov. 16 meeting. The legislation is supported by a majority of the council and is expected to be approved by both committees. If approved by both committees, the proposed legislation would go to the full council for a vote at its Nov. 21 meeting.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.