A lack of affordable housing and perceived discrimination in the rental market has prompted the Newtown Florist Club, a local civil rights organization, to schedule three community meetings to address these problems and educate residents about their housing rights.
In recent months, hundreds of lower-income families in Gainesville have faced significant rent increases as apartment complexes, such as Lenox Park (now rebranded as The Peaks at Gainesville under new ownership), exit a state tax credit program that kept costs below market rates.
What: Series of conversations about housing discrimination in Gainesville and Hall County, put on by the Newtown Florist Club
6 p.m. March 22: Section 8 housing discrimination training on how to file a complaint
6 p.m. April 26: Housing discrimination against families with children
6 p.m. May 24: Why some landlords deny Section 8 housing vouchers
Where: Fair Street Neighborhood Center, 715 Fair St., Gainesville
More info: 770-718-1343 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Properties leaving the tax credit program will no longer accept Section 8 housing subsidies and vouchers that also kept rents affordable for working families.
The Times has extensively documented the shortage of affordable housing in Hall County in the past two years.
More than 50 percent of all renters in Gainesville, for example, are considered “cost-burdened,” according to census figures, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
And more than 60 percent of all households in the city limits are renter-occupied.
In November, Beth Brown, executive director of the Gainesville Housing Authority, said the waiting list for public housing had spiked to 1,600 from 250 in just a few months, partly as a result of rising rents at formerly low-income complexes.
The Housing Authority has partnered with a private developer to build Walton Summit on the site of the former Green Hunter Homes public housing complex off Atlanta Street in Gainesville.
“The addition of these units will help,” Brown said last fall, “but come nowhere near meeting our community’s need for affordable housing. The affordable housing shortage does not just affect welfare recipients and minimum wage earners.”
The Newtown club is partnering with the Georgia Legal Services Program and Morningstar Urban Development Homeownership Center, a DeKalb County-based nonprofit, as hosts of the training and workshops.
Chad McCranie, a staff attorney with GLSP, said his firm will be available to answer legal questions about fair housing laws and discrimination.
“We can also address the requirements of participating in the Section 8 program and how that might determine which landlords decide to participate in the program,” he said.
But the training is being conducted by grass-roots leaders “who are recipients of the program and those who are deeply passionate about wanting to see change,” Newtown Florist Club executive director Rose Johnson said.
“NFC is training a new cadre of leaders to know the issues from their own experiences, how their lives are being impacted by public policy decisions and what actions can be taken if they face discriminatory action. We want everyone who has a Section 8 voucher who has been denied to understand the program and different ways that discrimination can be present and what recourse is available to them if they have had a problem.”
The Newtown neighborhood has played a key role in making affordable housing available to area residents over the last 15 years through its “Land Trust” program, building five new homes.
“Our focus now is on the people who live in our community who may not make a living wage and cannot find a place to live without the Section 8 housing choice voucher,” Johnson said. “If one of the problems causing this crisis is that some landlords are denying the vouchers, we really want to know the reasons why ... because the denial of Section 8 vouchers in such a widespread way feels like discrimination. Our position is that everyone regardless of income level deserves a decent place to live.”