Food or Rent? Tackling Georgia’s Housing Crisis

When one thinks of Georgia, they typically envision the “Empire State of The South” where almost everyone has a roof over their head, incomes remain high, and there is a sense of overall economic well-being. For middle and higher-income individuals in the state, this is indeed true, but for lower-income individuals, the ability to buy or even rent a home is becoming an increasingly more improbable opportunity. As of January 27th of this year, Georgia’s own Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, Chris Clark, admitted that the state is facing a massive problem–declaring that housing opportunities have reached a point of crisis.[1] In looking at the numbers, his statement seems more than evidently true. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there is currently a 207,244 shortage of rental homes that are both available and affordable to extremely low-income renting Georgians.[2] As of right now, over 24% of renters in Georgia fall into this category, meaning a substantial portion of the population who should have access at any time to a rentable home, do not.[3] The problem is only exacerbated further when considering the rate at which these low-income renter households face cost burdens requiring them to pay at least 30% or more of their income towards the rent on their homes, with 73% of these renters facing severe cost burdens and a further 88% facing any form of cost burden in general.[4] This ultimately results in households having to choose between basic necessities and paying the rent, a dilemma that many say should not be faced by citizens of a state which rakes in more than five billion dollars in surplus annually.[5]

As budget cuts continue and the surplus grows, many citizens are becoming increasingly concerned that the state government is not doing enough to ensure that its people have roofs over their heads; it’s no wonder considering Georgia ranks among the bottom ten states in the nation on state expenditures per person.[6] In light of this disconnect, it is becoming rather clear that the state needs to be diverting more of its budget to policy related to the creation and maintenance of affordable housing. One of the more tried and true ways of doing exactly that is to invest in more non-profit organizations related to housing such as The Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, an organization currently involved in a 440 million dollar project to develop 2,000 apartment units and homes in the Atlanta area by 2025.[7]

Governor Kemp, as of this fiscal year, has proposed to allocate a further 30.8 million dollars to 8 projects that are very similar to the ANDP but is only drawing these funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, which not only will not be replenished each year but also does not rely on using the state budget to reinvest in Georgians.[8] This consequently means that the state surplus would go towards other already well-funded programs or even tax cuts. While the amount of funding is not reset at a regular interval like other aspects of the budget, approaching the housing crisis through non-profit organizations is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, and allows for the type of specialization required for the development of housing.

In order to combat what problems remain with the infrequent allocation of funds to non-profit organizations that are addressing the housing crisis, it may be wise for the state to consider allocating a small portion of the budget annually to such an issue and make distinctions where necessary. For instance, if the state wished to increase the rate of low-income homeownership as opposed to creating more rentable homes, it could designate some of its funding to an organization or collection of organizations similar to Habitat for Humanity, which uses, “The labor of volunteers and partner families, efficient building methods, modest house sizes, and no-profit loans to make it affordable for low-income families to purchase Habitat houses.”[9] On the opposite side of this token, if the state wished to tackle the low number of affordable rentals, it could divert more funding to organizations such as the previously mentioned ANDP, which has already provided over 29,000 Atlantans with affordable rentals and homes.[10]

Regardless of how the funding might be directed, there is vast potential to deal with the housing crisis quickly by making this issue a budgetary item. In solving this issue, the state could help tackle childhood poverty in a cost-effective way, increase economic mobility amongst its citizens, and bolster its general economic growth.[11] This is not to mention that investing in non-profit organizations in particular would foster a culture of civic engagement in the state and allow our citizenry to feel as though they are responsible for tackling the issues that face their communities. While there may be no one way to address an issue as broad as affordable housing, engaging with programs like the ones mentioned above certainly provide the state a good place to start and give many citizens hope for the future of affordable housing, not just in Georgia but nationally.