By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Survey studies affordable housing barriers
Poor, disabled and elderly just get lost in the system in Gainesville, Hall County, state
Placeholder Image

2015 Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs has created surveys for citizens and industry professionals to help identify and address barriers to fair and affordable housing. To learn more and take the survey, visit www.dca.ga.gov/main/fairhousingsurvey.asp.

Brenda Carter arrived to the meeting late but showed no shy hesitation as she pushed her blind and special-needs child, Cortney Jackson, in on a wheelchair.

Shortly after taking a seat among city officials gathered last Thursday to help identify barriers to affordable housing for low-income residents of Gainesville, Carter shared her own story.

“I need a home,” she pleaded softly.

Carter has called a government-subsidized apartment in the city home for eight years, but said she’s been denied or turned away from so many other places that she has lost count.

The meeting felt like her last chance to find a larger, ranch-style house more suitable for her daughter’s needs.

“They seem ... like they pretend they listening to you, but they don’t want to listen to you,” Carter said, adding that she hoped the meeting could help her understand “how to go forward from here.”

The state Department of Community Affairs is currently surveying local governments, private developers, residents and other participants to determine what major impediments to fair and affordable housing exist in Gainesville, Hall County and across Georgia.

It’s a condition of receiving funds for affordable housing programs from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development, and extends through August.

It also comes at a time when a recent Supreme Court ruling affirmed the value of the Fair Housing Act’s consideration of unintended discrimination, or disparate impact, when determining where to locate low-income housing projects.

The act protects seven classes of individuals based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, family status and disability to ensure non-discrimination and equal access to affordable living units. These protections are afforded in the areas of private sales and lending, insurance and rentals, as well as public land use codes, permitting laws and obstacles that limit housing choice, among others.

And a new HUD policy aims to better calculate violations of the act and impediments to housing based on more extensive and detailed demographic data.

The DCA is soliciting comments ranging from questionable practices in housing rentals to charges of predatory lending, from discriminatory zoning laws to inadequate health and safety codes.

The survey also asks about enforcement of housing laws and whether additional classes, such as sexual orientation, should be protected.

One of the overarching goals is to highlight where concentrations of minorities and poverty are most commonly found.

Antonette Sewell, director of legal services for the DCA, said tenant screening requirements are common barriers that wind up segregating races and classes.

So, too, is the prevalence of a “not in my backyard” mentality where public and affordable housing are restricted to poorer neighborhoods because of opposition from wealthier homeowners, Sewell said.

These factors have been evident in Gainesville, according to local housing officials, and are exacerbated by a stagnant supply and lack of education about fair housing protections.

“We have a lack of affordable housing in this area,” said Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center.

This is something Frank Norton Jr., a local real estate mogul and CEO/chairman of The Norton Agency, found in a study his firm conducted for the Gainesville Housing Authority.

Preliminary findings of the DCA survey do not reveal many unknowns so much as they spotlight existing patterns of discrimination in housing. For example, blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be denied loans, even among their white counterparts at similar income levels.

As a caveat, the analysis does not include individual credit scores and debt-to-mortgage ratios.

Between 2004 and 2014, most housing complaints were based on perceived racial discrimination, then disability, sex, family status, national origin, retaliation, color and religion.

But DCA data shows that housing discrimination complaints have fallen in recent years after peaking between 2008 and 2010, the height of the economic recession and housing crisis.

Sewell said officials must question whether this is a sign that things are improving, or a reflection of the inability of residents to access resources and legal help.

And a fear of retaliation for reporting problems, such as nonrenewal of a lease, might also artificially lower these numbers.

Many residents are simply unaware of the protections afforded to them, especially when their subsidized housing is owned and managed by private landlords participating in a federal program, said Wendy Glasbrenner, managing attorney for the Gainesville regional office of the Georgia Legal Services Program.

“We do see a lot of discrimination and failure to accommodate persons with disabilities,” she added.

Chris Davis, Gainesville’s housing manager, said problems also stem from a lack of participation by the public. It has been difficult to drum up interest in outreach and educational programs.

“We even feed folks, and they don’t come,” Davis said.

Moss said seniors have particular challenges when it comes to finding affordable housing and adequate living conditions.

And this contributes to the kind of segregation that places minorities and low-income residents on one side of Jesse Jewell Parkway and Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville, and wealthier, predominantly white professionals on the other.

“So you ended up having ... concentration of poor individuals,” Moss said. “And so they just get lost in the system.”

Regional events