Lets Fix Atlanta’s Blight Problem

Atlanta has a problem with blighted and abandoned properties. Let’s fix it.

Many of us see these properties every day in our communities. They can be found near our homes, near our schools, and near our places of worship. I know exactly how frustrating it is—I live next door to a vacant lot where illegal dumping and trash buildup have proven to be a challenge to my neighbors and me.

And the problem is worse than it may seem at first glance. By simply existing, Atlanta’s vacant and blighted properties cost the city’s taxpayers between $1.6 million and $2.9 million each year in the administrative costs necessary to impose and enforce each citation.

Even worse, if you’re a homeowner and you live within 500 feet of a blighted property, then your home value drops by over 2 percent. Across the city, blight diminishes property values between $55 million and $153 million, which puts all taxpayers on the hook as this reduces the city’s revenues by as much as $2.7 million each year. This is money that could be better spent providing improved police and fire services, new sidewalks, or more efficient services at City Hall.

Furthermore, research shows that vacancy causes violent crime near foreclosed homes to increase by 15 percent and that vacant properties strongly correlate with incidences of assault. Just last summer, several dead bodies were found in vacant and abandoned homes close to Downtown. This is unacceptable.

Taxpayers take another hit because we’re ultimately helping to line the pockets of absentee property owners. These owners must only pay nominal fines (of up to $1,000) as they continue to neglect vacant and abandoned lots. And they’re largely incentivized to do so because these fines are significantly cheaper than the effort it would take to clean up the properties. For many absentee owners, this is just the cost of doing business. Yet, taxpayers must still pay for the city services necessary to address the problem. And this is worsened because many of these deadbeat owners are hiding behind shell LLCs, and there are few options for the city or county to prosecute them. That vacant lot next to my home that I mentioned before? The owner is a London-based trust with deep ties to white nationalism and neo-Nazis. This is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, the City of Atlanta is in a poor position to address these issues. The immense research necessary to correct or clarify county property documents (which could be months out of date) makes tracking down absentee owners difficult, and even impossible, in many cases. This is unacceptable.

The communities comprising southwest Atlanta are especially vulnerable to these problems. District 4 alone has the 2nd highest density of code violations in the entire city, which means everything I’ve described disproportionately affects our families, neighbors, and friends. This is unacceptable.

If elected to Atlanta City Council:

  • I will work to reduce blight by proposing to hire the code enforcement officers and researchers necessary to improve the effectiveness of that department.
  • I will work to significantly increase the fines for unoccupied properties with code violations, potentially resulting in criminal prosecution if violators don’t show up to court or if violations aren’t remedied.
  • I will work with our state legislators to ensure that they sponsor legislation to provide greater flexibility for the city to use eminent domain as a remediation tool.
  • I will work to encourage the city to ensure that vacant property condemnations expand land bank programs, which I believe are key to keeping housing in Atlanta affordable.

By addressing blight, we can get more Atlantans into homes, creating the clean, safe, and vibrant communities that our neighborhoods deserve.

Blight affects all of us, and we must act now.

Let’s Address Housing Affordability in Atlanta

Affordable housing is the number one issue that our campaign is seeking to address. This isn’t a new issue for us, but it’s certainly one that we’re focused on solving. Rising housing costs have displaced many families from the city. In light of this, we’re fighting to ensure that the families that have been the organizational backbone of our communities for decades can continue to shape our city’s cultural legacy as we continue to gain new residents.

Recently this issue hit particularly close to home for many families. Residents are in shock after this week’s distribution of tax assessment notices to homeowners across Fulton County. Property values have gone up for nearly every household, and some have even found that their values have tripled since last year’s assessment. While home values have always fluctuated with the larger economic cycle, this year’s assessments are particularly worrisome.

District 4 is home to to some of the most economically vulnerable residents in the city, so this sudden increase in tax burden has distressed many families. This is especially disruptive considering that the average assessment valuation increase for residential properties across District 4 was 69.87%. While this could seem like a blessing for some, unfortunately only 35.4% of the District’s housing units are owner-occupied, a rate which is the second lowest in the entire city. In other words, because so many of our neighbors are renters, increased appraisal or assessment valuations don’t necessarily mean a windfall for our families.

District 4 housing assessment increases.

These increased valuations are even more burdensome when you consider that District 4’s median household income is $24,533 (again, the second lowest in the city), and that 42.7% of homeowners spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing (which is the national standard for housing affordability). Again, this is the second highest in the city, making District 4’s residents among the city’s most vulnerable.

This impacts both our renting and our home-owning families. An owner-occupied $100,000 home assessed at 40% would yield a tax bill around $500. Because homestead exemptions only exclude the first $30,000 of assessed value, that bill skyrockets to nearly $1,800 assuming the aforementioned 69.87% increase in assessment valuation. Remember, 69.87% is just the average–many homeowners had their values increase more than 200%. And if you’re renting that same house, you’re still likely to absorb your landlord’s tax liability–meaning that you absorb the costs that are passed on when the tax bill jumps to more than $3,000 since there’s no homestead exemption for renter-occupied housing facilities.

Whether you’re an owner or a renter, that’s a heavy lift for many of our families. But there’s a way forward. Here’s how we can preserve and protect access to affordable housing in Atlanta:

  • Employ market-driven solutions, such as ending minimum parking requirements for new construction and removing traditional zoning requirements which would expand housing choices.
  • Aggressively target blight and code enforcement violators, which would increase the supply of available housing and open more opportunities to families across the city. More on that here.
  • Expand Invest Atlanta’s home down payment assistance programs, strengthening the pipelines available for residents to become homeowners.
  • Work with county-level partners to develop new property tax exemptions for cost-burdened property owners
  • Expand funding for land banks or community land trusts, which would stabilize land costs and promote economic diversity in neighborhoods by ensuring community stewardship of land.
  • Adopt mandatory inclusionary zoning practices for transactions involving the sale or transfer of publicly-owned property.

No single policy initiative is a cure-all, but they can work together to ensure that more families can live in the communities of their choosing.

Updating our land use policies would allow for a diversity of uses which would meet the needs of families looking for housing options beyond large-scale multi-family and low-density single-family units. This market-oriented approach would enable developers to build additional units of housing in land-constrained communities. Ensuring a diversity of options and choices means that fewer residents are competing for the same limited housing stock, reducing the cost of housing for everyone. Inclusionary zoning would ensure developers allocate a portion of new construction to residents with low or moderate incomes. Density bonuses and tax abatements could allow developers to recapture a portion of construction costs.

These are just some of tools at our disposal.

I will also work to incentivize equitable affordable housing options in conjunction with transit-oriented development, which would concentrate mixed-income housing, daily services, schools and jobs near existing transit and this would enable residents to save money, improve their economic opportunities and ultimately improve the regional economy.

We must act with urgency as Atlanta is expected to grow by another 1 million people over the next 25 years. 

Housing affordability affects all of us, and we must act now.

Jason’s Agenda for City Hall

“It’s time to bring a new community-based agenda to City Hall. It’s an agenda that fully addresses increasing affordable housing in our communities. It’s an agenda that focuses on making real progress in making our communities safe. It’s an agenda that ensures that our government is open and accountable again. It’s an agenda that ensures that our neighborhoods aren’t separated by highways and by railroads and all of our citizens are connected to the rest of the region. It’s an agenda that recognizes that protecting our environment is linked to protecting our homes and our health.

To often we hear “no” from City Hall. No, we won’t reveal the recipients of massive corporate welfare development deals using taxpayer money and taxpayer-owned property. No, we won’t post our spending online. No, we won’t require a Community Benefits Agreement. No, we won’t consult the NPU’s before building parking decks or making decisions about Underground Atlanta.

As our next City Councilmember I will fight to increase the number of affordable housing units in District 4. I will fight to make our communities safe again. I will fight to create the open, honest and transparent City Council our families and small businesses so richly deserve. And as our next City Councilmember I will be the strongest ally and advocate our neighborhoods have ever had on City Council.”

Lets Fix Atlanta’s Blight Problem

Atlanta has a problem with blighted and abandoned properties. Let’s fix it.

Many of us see these properties every day in our communities. They can be found near our homes, near our schools, and near our places of worship. I know exactly how frustrating it is—I live next door to a vacant lot where illegal dumping and trash buildup have proven to be a challenge to my neighbors and me.

And the problem is worse than it may seem at first glance. By simply existing, Atlanta’s vacant and blighted properties cost the city’s taxpayers between $1.6 million and $2.9 million each year in the administrative costs necessary to impose and enforce each citation.

Even worse, if you’re a homeowner and you live within 500 feet of a blighted property, then your home value drops by over 2 percent. Across the city, blight diminishes property values between $55 million and $153 million, which puts all taxpayers on the hook as this reduces the city’s revenues by as much as $2.7 million each year. This is money that could be better spent providing improved police and fire services, new sidewalks, or more efficient services at City Hall.

Furthermore, research shows that vacancy causes violent crime near foreclosed homes to increase by 15 percent and that vacant properties strongly correlate with incidences of assault. Just last summer, several dead bodies were found in vacant and abandoned homes close to Downtown. This is unacceptable.

Taxpayers take another hit because we’re ultimately helping to line the pockets of absentee property owners. These owners must only pay nominal fines (of up to $1,000) as they continue to neglect vacant and abandoned lots. And they’re largely incentivized to do so because these fines are significantly cheaper than the effort it would take to clean up the properties. For many absentee owners, this is just the cost of doing business. Yet, taxpayers must still pay for the city services necessary to address the problem. And this is worsened because many of these deadbeat owners are hiding behind shell LLCs, and there are few options for the city or county to prosecute them. That vacant lot next to my home that I mentioned before? The owner is a London-based trust with deep ties to white nationalism and neo-Nazis. This is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, the City of Atlanta is in a poor position to address these issues. The immense research necessary to correct or clarify county property documents (which could be months out of date) makes tracking down absentee owners difficult, and even impossible, in many cases. This is unacceptable.

The communities comprising southwest Atlanta are especially vulnerable to these problems. District 4 alone has the 2nd highest density of code violations in the entire city, which means everything I’ve described disproportionately affects our families, neighbors, and friends. This is unacceptable.

If elected to Atlanta City Council, I will work to reduce blight by proposing to hire the code enforcement officers and researchers necessary to improve the effectiveness of that department. I will work to significantly increase the fines for unoccupied properties with code violations, potentially resulting in criminal prosecution if violators don’t show up to court or if violations aren’t remedied. I will work with our state legislators to ensure that they sponsor legislation to provide greater flexibility for the city to use eminent domain as a remediation tool. I will work to encourage the city to ensure that vacant property condemnations expand land bank programs, which I believe are key to keeping housing in Atlanta affordable.

By addressing blight, we can get more Atlantans into homes, creating the clean, safe, and vibrant communities that our neighborhoods deserve.

Blight affects all of us, and we must act now.