Tenants Try to Right Landlord Wrongs

ACORN Community Organizing
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  Little Rock      A half dozen people gathered in the Atlanta heat under a gazebo at Capital Gateway Apartments, an Integral managed project.  The issues weren’t unusual.  In fact, the issues were too common:  mold, slow to no maintenance, security, and rents themselves.  The ACORN Tenants Union in Atlanta had heard all of these issues and more at the first Integral complex ATU had organized at Ashley Collegetown.  Complaints signed by the tenants had been filed with the health department and the housing agency.  Covid has allowed municipal employees to work remotely, but even when ATU followed with a certified letter, there was still no response.  Now another complex will pile on its complaints and ATU will plan to increase the pressure when they meet together in coming weeks.  ATU follows the checklist to give management and city enforcement no choice but to respond, but given the few rights that tenants have in Georgia – and most of the South – the tenants are the only ones following the rules.

Tenants are stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Average rents are more than $1500 per month in Atlanta, and even starting units are about that level in these Integral complexes.  As Langston Hughes wrote, they, like the poet, “wish the rent were heaven-sent.”  Incomes and rents don’t match, and worse, given the affordable housing shortage tenants lack a viable threat of exit.

Worse, the Supreme Court by a wide majority has now ruled against the latest Biden administration eviction moratorium, so hundreds of thousands across the country may face immediate eviction.  Many of course are already caught in the system which could ensnare millions in the wake of the ongoing pandemic.

At Capital Gateway, I heard the committee talk about the minimum standards of habitability supposedly guaranteed to all tenants in Atlanta, but given the lack of response what is that standard really worth?  In Little Rock, for example, a 1993 ordinance mandated inspections, but with only a handful of inspectors, it would take years for all of the routes to be run with only 40,000 units in this much smaller city.  In Toronto, ACORN fought for more than a decade before winning landlord licensing where the fees allowed a huge increase of inspectors there.  In the European Union, all housing units are classified based on habitability, and ACORN’s French affiliate worked to win a 2025 commitment of retrofits and upgrades enforced on all lower-ranked housing.

From city to city, country to country, it becomes clear that even after all of these years, there is no real reckoning by public authorities on what needs to be done to allow even minimum protections for vulnerable families and basic rights for tenants as part of their side of the rental bargain.  Tenants are organizing, but it’s a long road with way too many stoplights.