November 20, 2019

Presidential Candidates: To Appeal to Atlanta Voters at the Debate, Talk About Housing

An aerial view of Atlanta

This blog was authored by Meaghan Shannon-Vlkovic, vice president and market leader for Enterprise Community Partners' Southeast market, which includes the states of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, and Tennessee

Cities that host presidential primary debates are strategically chosen by party leaders to reach voters in key states, increasing the likelihood that we will hear what the candidates have to say. With the fifth Democratic debate coming to Atlanta tonight, here’s a free tip for moderators and candidates alike: you are in a city where the average family spends more than half its total income on housing and transportation costs, because even those who manage to find an affordable home often face lengthy and costly commutes that negate its benefits. This issue is top of mind for hundreds of thousands of individuals and families for whom our region is quickly becoming unaffordable. The previous four debates have been largely silent on housing. Atlanta voters need candidates to discuss it.

Since 2010, average rents in Atlanta have increased by 48 percent, but income has risen just 10 percent. As the costs of both renting and owning homes in Atlanta rise, the region can’t keep up with the demand for affordable options. The Atlanta metro area loses 1,500 affordable units every year, and funding to replenish or increase the region’s affordable housing stock is limited.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has committed to investing $1 billion into affordable housing by 2026 through her One Atlanta: Housing Affordability Action Plan, which will leverage federal, state and local funds alongside private and philanthropic resources to create or preserve 20,000 affordable homes. The success of this ambitious effort will depend on support and funding from the federal government—Atlanta cannot be expected to go it alone. Atlanta voters are not expecting presidential candidates to come in and solve our problems. The question on our minds is: what will you do to help state and local efforts like ours?

The lack of affordable housing is a local issue playing out on a national scale. The most successful initiatives to increase the availability and quality of affordable housing nationwide are localized efforts that take a region’s unique needs into account but are supported by funding from federal, state and local sources—public-private partnerships that work across sectors to do what no single entity can do on its own. At the debate, candidates should be asked how their administration will pitch in.

There are longstanding federal programs that are well designed to meet the nation’s severe housing needs. The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) and the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) incentivize private investment into affordable housing and economic development, leveraging the best aspects of the private market for public good. However, the NMTC program is due to expire at the end of this year and if Congress does not reauthorize the program, the country will lose an important tool that drives investment towards low-income communities. And while LIHTC remains an effective financing tool, annual allocations to state housing authorities are too low to keep up with the increasing need for affordable housing. The next president must throw his or her support behind preserving and expanding these fundamental sources of funding for housing and community development.
 
On the policy side, Washington should enact federal source of income laws to protect low-income renters from discrimination and displacement. The federal government should also look to provide legal protections for households facing evictions and counsel for voucher holders who are unfamiliar with their rights as renters.

In Atlanta and across the country, communities of color and other marginalized groups are disproportionately affected by the affordability crunch. Presidential candidates have emphasized their commitment to racial equity on the campaign trail, and this is a key area in which they can deliver on those promises. The federal government should work with local governments and nonprofits to ensure that an influx of new dollars does not displace residents in neighborhoods that have been historically under-resourced, and in fact enables them to participate in the economic growth taking place in their neighborhoods. 

Housing is the foundation for economic success and social well-being; without a stable and affordable home, individuals and families are less able to stay healthy, pursue an education and plan for their future. Communities in Atlanta and across the country need a federal government that will commit to making sufficient resources available for the affordable housing programs that have shown their effectiveness and efficiency for years. This commitment should start tonight on the debate stage. 

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