In their campaigns leading up to the Nov. 3 general election, the candidates for Sandy Springs’ four Georgia House of Representatives’ districts have been asked about a variety of topics.
While Sandy Springs Together’s Oct. 8 candidates’ forum touched on a plethora of issues, it mainly focused on affordable housing. It was held via Facebook Live due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sandy Springs Together is an organization that wants “safe, walkable neighborhoods, with housing options affordable for everyone, and we want all of our voices included as the city makes decisions,” according to its website.
Sandy Springs Together invited all eight candidates, with Democrats Sarah Tindall Ghazal (District 45), Josh McLaurin (District 51 incumbent), Shea Roberts (District 52) and Matt Wilson (District 80 incumbent) participating. Republicans Alex Kaufman (District 51) and Deb Silcox (District 52 incumbent) could not attend, and fellow Republicans Alan Cole (District 80) and Matt Dollar (District 45 incumbent) did not reply to Sandy Springs Together’s invitation, co-founder Melanie Couchman said.
The forum was moderated by Georgia Public Broadcasting journalist Donna Lowry, and one of her questions was: “If elected, how will you help protect (low- to middle-income residents') place in the community?”
Wilson said local governments should do what they can to protect those families from being pushed out of their communities and preserve affordable housing. He added he rents an apartment on Buford Highway in Brookhaven and has seen development and redevelopment there threaten to force some residents out.
“One of the things I would like to work on, if reelected, is continuing the conversation with the local governments,” he said. “The Brookhaven government has been very effective in enforcing affordable housing norms in Brookhaven.
“There’s a side street off Buford Highway where a townhome group wanted to buy up low-income apartment complexes that are homes for the Hispanic community and build new townhomes for up to $700,000 and $800,000, saying it would include some ‘affordable housing’ based on median income of a family living in Atlanta or metro Atlanta. Brookhaven said, ‘No, it has to be the median income of a family living on Buford Highway, not Atlanta or metro Atlanta,’ and the project was killed.”
Roberts, who also ran for the District 52 seat in 2018, said while campaigning door to door, she met a woman in Sandy Springs who “was almost in tears” because her rent was increasing, and she couldn’t afford it.
“Her son had always (gone to school) in Sandy Springs,” Roberts said. “He was a high school junior and she didn’t want to move. It’s hard because so many of these issues are controlled by the local government, but we need to look at ways to help people in these lower economic levels.
“We can do it by expanding Medicaid. We’re one of 12 states that haven’t done that yet. We could help provide insurance for 470,000 Georgians and create 56,000 jobs and help struggling rural hospitals.”
McLaurin, who represents the northern part of Sandy Springs, pointed to proposals the city has made to revitalize its north end, including adding greenspace and trails with access to the Chattahoochee River. While it’s a good idea, he said he wants to make sure those improvements don’t threaten current residents’ ability to stay in their homes if improvements caused an increase in the area’s property values and rent rates.
“What (advocates are) concerned about is equity, if they can share in those improvements,” he said. “If there are 100 people and only 80 can be fed and 20 (can’t), we should look at how we can feed the other 20. … Do we want to make things nicer without thinking about how that will impact the entire community?”
Ghazal said all residents must be considered when areas are developed or redeveloped.
“Being a (state) representative means you represent your constituents,” she said. “You make sure they are part of the conversation as well. … This means all of the residents’ needs are met, and that means we shouldn’t price people out of the market.”
The candidates were also asked if they support or oppose House Bill 1022, a proposed law that would require landlords to give tenants a seven-day “opportunity to cure,” a written notice that serves as the final step in the eviction process, giving renters a week to pay their rent.
Lowry said 40 states already have similar laws, and in Georgia once eviction proceedings start, tenants not only have to pay their back rent but also “court costs, attorneys’ fees and administrative costs, totaling thousands of dollars.”
All four candidates said they support HB 1022, which was introduced during this year’s session in February but never made it to the House floor for a vote. Wilson, a co-sponsor of the bill, said one reason it wasn’t voted on is another tenants’ rights bill, HB 346, was approved during the 2019 session.
“For tenants to present a complaint to their landlords, such as mold in the ceiling, this allows them to not be kicked out by the landlord and bringing (another renter) in and allow the mold to stay in place,” he said.
McLaurin added, “Landlords have massive economic and political advantages because of, number one, their resources, since they do this a lot, and they also have access to the Legislature in a way tenants don’t.”
Said Ghazal, “This is a matter of due process, and a renter needs notice in writing, and they need the opportunity before the burdens become insurmountable. We balance it with a very short period of time to give renters a window of opportunity.”
Roberts added, “I have been both a landlord and a tenant in my life and (the current law) doesn’t give the same notice and rights to cure. The fact that (the debt) follows them for so long, to me, (means) a lot of the systems in place seem to favor the landlord.”