by Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder
In Atlanta’s housing market where exorbitant home prices and high rents are excluding even many middle-class families, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and other local luminaries earlier this month stood outside a house built in 1949 that could help buck the trend by providing a safe and affordable place to live.
The two-bedroom Oakmont Drive house has been brought up to code and renovated with new flooring to go along with other improvements, one of the dozens of homes across the region that is being acquired and rehabbed by the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership as part of a campaign to develop 2,000 apartment units and homes by 2025.
Housing insecurity is not just an Atlanta issue, but a problem across Georgia and many other areas of the country, increasing the need for partnerships like the $2.5 million investment by CareSource, the state’s only non-profit Medicaid provider, to preserve 75 single-family rentals like the northwest Atlanta property where officials gathered outside of this month.
The Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, or ANDP, is in the midst of the $440 million “Closing the Gap” campaign and over the last several years has had a tenfold increase in its rental portfolio to about 200 properties.
ANDP often partners with local Black builders who might have their own brokerage or real estate agency that can help the nonprofit identify homes. The organization can provide loans to purchase homes and also delve into the rental market by leveraging resources like federal grants and other government funding or philanthropic dollars from donors like CareSource.
Ashani O’Mard, senior vice president of strategic housing investments for ANDP, said that providing a safe, reliable and affordable home to rent will provide some stability to a family.
“Where you live is like a critical stabilizer in your ability to focus on other outcomes in your life; whether it’s health, whether it’s education, whether it’s being able to access transportation to get to work,” O’Mard said. “It becomes foundational in positioning a family to be able to thrive in other facets of their lives.”
Dickens said the investment illustrates how federal, state, and local partners are working with nonprofit agencies and private businesses to solve Atlanta’s housing shortage. CareSource representatives say health care leaders can better ensure the type of housing stability that helps residents stay healthier.
In Atlanta, housing prices increased 70% from 2000 to 2017, outpacing income increases of 48% of its residents, a problem that will only worsen as the population grows.
Across the state, inflation has led to higher utility costs and prices for construction supplies to build new homes, and private investors are snatching up large numbers of homes and then flooding the rental market with them. Meanwhile, local government officials have also been criticized for not helping fill the void of subsidized housing and not mandating that developers offer more units that are affordable to those most vulnerable to housing insecurity.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there is a shortage of rental homes for 340,000 households, or 24% of Georgia’s renters, whose incomes are below 30% of the area median income.
Cost burdened households are those that spend at least 30% of their income on housing and utilities.
The coalition reports that over a five-year period through 2020, for every 100 Georgia households earning half of average income, only about 58 affordable units were available.
In order to afford a two-bedroom rental home listed at HUD’s fair market rent, a family would need to earn $43,618 a year. The agency’s fair market rental value for a two-bedroom ranges widely across the state, from $880 in Albany to north of $1,000 in Augusta to an average of $1,553 in the two dozen counties spanning metro Atlanta.
For the Atlanta housing nonprofit, its properties typically rent for $650 to $1,650 a month, and it also develops houses that sell for less than $275,000.
“Many of these households are severely cost burdened, spending more than half of their income on housing,” the national coalition said about Georgia. “Severely cost burdened poor households are more likely than other renters to sacrifice other necessities like healthy food and health care to pay the rent, and to experience unstable housing situations like evictions.”
In recent months, government officials have directed money to combat housing insecurity, most recently with Gov. Brian Kemp announcing this week $30.8 million awarded to eight organizations that aim to help people keep a roof overhead. The funding, provided through COVID-relief grants from the American Rescue Plan Act, will go toward building dozens of apartments around Atlanta for low-income families, homeless individuals, veterans and people who are 55 years and older who are on the verge of losing their homes.
In Macon, the River Edge Foundation will spend $4.8 million to build 26 one-bedroom apartments for low-income people with disabilities, and another $2.2 million is going to a program to assist with the construction of an affordable housing development for Georgia’s farm workers. The state allocated another $100 million earlier this year to organizations like the United Way of Central Georgia to support people experiencing homelessness and for other housing initiatives.
“The pandemic showed the great level of resiliency and determination Georgians have, and the funds we’re awarding today will further help those still struggling in the aftermath of COVID-19 regain stability and housing security,” Kemp said in a statement on Wednesday.
The funding will support River Edge as it builds group homes that are accessible for adults with disabilities.
In May, Democratic U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff announced $170 million in HUD grants would be distributed to 27 localities across the state to expand the availability of affordable housing.
The money will support organizations’ efforts to renovate affordable housing, including providing housing assistance and services for HIV-affected people living in low-income households. A home in northwest Atlanta was rehabbed and put on the rental market as part of a $2.5 million affordable housing investment from nonprofit Medicaid provider CareSource. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder
ANDP’s senior director of communications and technology, George Burgan, says that more people are having to choose between paying for rent and medicine.
Although the organization focuses mostly on helping finance homeownership, there is a compelling need to offer reasonably priced rental units.
“You have so many players who are buying up, amassing rentals and the rent increases are just more than low and moderate income families can absorb,” Burgan said. “So we’re finding, we need to be in that space to try and preserve affordability.”
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