Straight From the Mike…TELLING IT LIKE IT IS
It was a heart-wrenching story that I read quite recently about a mother whose daughter is facing eviction. It really concerns me to see anyone getting evicted, especially concerning is the trauma on the kids, who after all, had no choice in the matter.
One only needs to peruse the opinion that came down the other week from the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals here in Atlanta, to get an even clearer picture of the dilemma. Landlords opined that they would never recover the unpaid rent because their tenants are insolvent. Judge Britt Grant, writing for the majority, even asserted that the tenants could not afford their rent at the time the leases were signed. “But they paint a hazy picture-at best- of any given tenant’s ability to pay later. Clearly, there are no easy solutions to this national predicament.
Be that as it may, I would like to shift to ongoing housing issue that needs our immediate attention here now, as well.
Folks, if you can imagine a #10 can on the shelf in the Cobb County food pantry that is almost dent free, even after repeated kicks, it would be the one labeled ‘Affordable Housing.’
First, let me state that the current criticism being directed to the BOC is not fully warranted. Why? Simply because I know firsthand that this #10 can has been bumped, booted, and scooted down the road since the late 20th century in this county.
I can recall reading through a loaded oversized three ring binder, about the size of some businesses accounts payable file, that was passed along to me during an office clean out of a long serving, retiring County Manager. I was quite impressed, as I perused through the meeting minutes of the Affordable Housing Committee. Interestingly, I could not help but notice the convening time of 7:30AM. The group had impressive agendas for each meeting, along with minutes. However, the part I found so amazing was the fact that their recommendations and solutions still ring true to this day.
They suggested that the county actually get down in the ‘riverbed’ on this issue. They recommended developer incentives to build quality, affordable, and efficient homes. Yes, that is right, quality, and energy efficient homes. They talked about concessions and tax carve outs, as well as accelerated permitting and inspections. These are items that should pique the interest of most community-oriented developers, especially ones that have been successful over the years and are thinking about legacy.
I would not stop there. I would address, head on, some of the major objections from Cobb residents and critics in regard to Affordable Housing. The image, and, too often, the reality of cookie cutter home styles, wafer thin walls, minimal insulation, sparse landscaping, grass seed versus sod, and so on. Then you get the other rejoinder, what about the speculator? The person that buys one of the homes, rides the appreciation, and then sells, skips out with a sizeable profit on the investment. Accordingly, it is a fact that one only needs to check other counties that have done AH ventures to learn that it is addressed by way of covenants, similar to the ones used by HOA’s. Montgomery County, Maryland, comes to mind, from my research on the issue.
It would really be an oversight on my part if I did not address the rental gauntlet facing so many tenants and frustrated landlords. This is especially timely, in light of the fact that it does not look like another eviction moratorium is going to be supported locally or nationally. Unless and until Cobb County gives equal credence to the plight of both the landlord and tenant in this conundrum, the ping pong ball will continue to bound back and forth across the net with frustration. After all, it is landlords that assume the investment risk, take on the mortgages, and assume the liabilities. Oh, and let us not forget, pay the taxes.
Without getting too deep into the kudzu, I was disappointed to learn of a local apartment owner charging $150 (non-refundable) application fee. I have one basic question. Who likes anything that is nonrefundable? $150 out of perhaps an already diminished paycheck is real money.
By the way, I hear rumblings about a desire by some activist to see rent control instituted. In my opinion, that would be about as welcomed as a Seagram’s salesman at an AA meeting. Like several other ideas that emerge from the east coast, this one needs to stay right there on the Charles River, in Cambridge, MA, and the home of Harvard University.
I believe, as in the words of Judge Learned Hand, in the ‘Supremacy of Reason’, There always needs to be ‘Common Ground’.
One major reason for the high level of frustration that exists with the housing challenge is that so many key elected officials seem to know what forums, and meetings to avoid. Additionally, too many of them revert to the standard answers to FAQ’s, which, unfortunately, have withstood the tenure of the problem – let me get back to you. I just sense a lack of empathy, such as written about by the late Howard Thurman, which he called, “The Community of the Wall.”
Let’s take a look at our public policy, and the communication interest of our citizens who have questions and concerns on valid issues, such as housing. During the pandemic, as we know, video calls, WebEx, Zoom became the standard fare. Your questions went through a chat box, they got screened, willowed, and, if picked for a response, you had no chance for follow up. Now that we are getting back to live town halls, the ‘safety valve’ now is to request you to write out your question. You sit in your seat feeling like you just purchased a chance in a drawing. It makes one think of that Dirty Harry movie with Clint Eastwood asking, “Do you feel lucky today?”
Moreover, I can attest to the fact that at almost every Atlanta Regional Housing Alliance forum I attended, the number of elected officials present at the state, local, and county levels, would not be difficult to count on one hand, in most cases. If one does not hear from the residents, see their distress, and feel the frustration stemming from this housing issue, solutions, new ideas, and new alternatives will fall on infertile soil and never grow into fruition.
If one is looking for some consolation, Cobb County is not the only county with this challenge. Furthermore, the State of Georgia has yet to get fully engaged. It should not go unnoticed that a Workforce Housing Study Committee did convene in 2019 under the leadership of Representative Vance Smith, Jr. (HD-133). There needs to be a groundswell of support for the recommendations put forth in that report. Thankfully, some of our elected officials are having conversations and checking the thermometer as to the degrees of hopelessness so many residents are feeling. Let us hope it continues.
In our beloved county, items such as code amendments, ADU’s (Access able Dwelling Units), Tiny Homes, Land Bank Authority, Landlord Mitigation Programs, and a Motel to Home Program are not flavor of the month subjects. They deserve our attention, discussion, and action.
You can’t continue to kick that #10 can down the road without it finally getting so misshaped that it simply will not roll anymore.
Until next time…