The Crime Of Housing The Working Poor

We believe public meetings should be a place for open dialogue, civil discourse, and fair debate, where two sides can each present their case.  Unfortunately, as evidenced at the C.T. Martin Recreation Center a few weeks ago in June, Councilwoman Andrea Boone demonstrated that she doesn’t share this belief.

She left the floor largely unmoderated when neighbors from Chalet Peyton Forest railed for five or ten minutes at a time at an hours-long meeting about rooming houses and the new PadSplit home in their neighborhood.

But when Atticus LeBlanc, PadSplit’s founder, asked to speak about the proposed code changes, with two people living in PadSplit homes ready to tell their stories, Boone called for a floor vote to see if they would be allowed two minutes to speak. Atticus offered to defer his time to the 2 mothers that were PadSplit residents.  Unfortunately, Councilwoman Boone intervened instead to shoo them away from the microphone. . .at a public meeting.

They may be her constituents, but she didn’t seem to think so. Atticus and I believe they should be given the same consideration as her typical constituents, regardless of their economic condition.

Laquite came to that meeting with her young daughter, Faith. They had been living in a shelter while Laquite worked two jobs, at Wendy’s and Amazon, struggling to make ends meet. She wanted a safe place to raise her daughter with decent schools. But her income and a previous eviction meant that she did not qualify for any traditional apartments or homes. 

It took months of searching before she found stable housing with PadSplit. She feels safe, stable, and independent, and she’s saving money for her own place and dreams of becoming an independent hair stylist.

Americans call people like Laquite the working poor, because trying to move ahead is important in our society. We work hard. We want other people to work hard, to solve their own problems, to make the most of their opportunities and to aspire for a better future. But that all starts with a place to call home. 

Tiffany was there at the meeting too.  She even swapped a workshift that night so her voice would be heard.  She used to live in a roach motel off I-20, dodging drug dealers on her way to catch the bus as a night-shift security guard for a film studio before finding PadSplit. She stayed with us for six months, but that was long enough to save the money to buy a used car, enough to pay the deposit on a studio apartment. PadSplit was the difference between survival and middle-class aspirations of owning her first home — possibly as a PadSplit.  She still credits PadSplit with teaching her how to budget.

Quan wasn’t there that night — he works nights. He told us he grew up in an orphanage. At 18, he enlisted in the Marines, where he served for eight years with two tours in Iraq. He left last year, moved to Atlanta to be with his fiance and child, and is working as a security contractor while trying to get his career and family life in order. He also runs a PTSD and mental health support group while looking for ways to enlarge his photography and club work.

Lora works as a pastry chef at SCAD that’s been with us for over a year. Previously, she commuted 90 minutes each way to make it to work because that was the closest thing she could afford.  When her hours got cut each summer, she slept in the airport lobby. Because of PadSplit, last summer was the first one in four years that she was consistently able to sleep in a real bed, in a real home.

These members are everyday heroes, and why Atticus created PadSplit.

Boone has proposed an ordinance change that flies in the face of the work done by experts across the city and the country who aren’t seeing affordable housing solutions for Atlanta’s blue-collar workforce. Her proposal would limit the number of unrelated people living together in a house, from six to four, and the number of people allowed to rent rooms from four to three. The proposal is rooted in NIMBY concerns by people who feel threatened by the presence of working class Atlantans in their neighborhood.

The proposal stands in stark contrast to the policy platform laid out by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms last week, seeking “One Atlanta” that is “Affordable, Resilient, Equitable.” The Mayor’s housing plan sings the virtues of the “missing middle” in single-family zoning, in direct conflict with Boone’s position.

Changes to zoning ordinances, under the Mayor’s plan should “help to improve affordability by increasing the overall supply of housing and make less-expensive housing options available within resource-rich neighborhoods.” Boone’s proposal is based on a resource-rich neighborhood’s complaints about workforce housing coming to their street. The substance of that complaint?

Some of the residents were parking on the street. As one of the neighbors stated at the meeting: “In this neighborhood, we don’t park on the street…”

Social services providers and advocates for antipoverty programs in Atlanta lined up against the Boone proposal, at least the ones that were allowed to speak.

I’ve been working on homelessness and mental illness in this city for the last 4 years. I spent half my time in board rooms trying to shape policy around how Atlanta treats the homeless, and the other half in Woodruff Park trying to prevent it.  I recently took a job at PadSplit because I see a crisis on the horizon and few answers outside of their solution. PadSplit is a mission-driven startup that uses housing as a vehicle for financial independence for everyday Americans.  They’ve already created more than 300 units of affordable housing in the last 12 months with $0 in public subsidy using existing homes owned by others.

Members pay on average $140 a week for a furnished room in a shared house, including all utilities, wi-fi, and laundry. Everyone has a job. Everyone clears a criminal background check, and they can even rate the other members in the house. And everyone knows who to call if there’s a problem.

That last bit is important.

Atlanta is rife with rooming houses operating under the radar, where desperate people regularly do not even know the real name of the person they’re renting a room from.

One of our members, Corretta, showed me cell phone pictures from her previous residence, with a mattress smudged solid grey with bedbug waste in a house with mold, exposed wiring, fire hazards and vermin.

She stayed there for two months. There was nothing else she could find.

But rather than build new affordable housing or find ways to crack down on these exploitative abuses, Boone proposes to limit the best options available for people like Corretta.

Atlanta has about 190,000 households. About 52,000 of those have annual incomes less than $30,000 a year.  Most apartment managers require monthly income of three times the rent. Go ahead and search for an apartment in Atlanta for $600 a month or less. Google it. I’ll wait.

It’s time to draw a line in the sand.  The people most affected by Boone’s ordinance are the working poor who serve coffee, wait tables, drive buses, deliver packages, and pick up our trash … the people who serve Atlanta every day, often with two jobs, who are one accident away from homelessness. They are the least able to make their voices heard.  Two of them went out of their way to come to a public meeting last Thursday to share their stories, and were denied.  

Either you believe that these workers deserve a place to call home in our community, or you don’t. 

Boone made it clear that she doesn’t think these workers deserve a place in her neighborhood … or at a microphone at a public meeting. 

We’re going to pull together a group of affordable housing advocates — people who work to reduce homelessness and increase uplift — and we’re going to build a reform package around zoning and code enforcement that gets at the real problem.

The critics of our Mayor’s “One Atlanta” proposal suggest that it doesn’t go far enough, that it isn’t specific enough or aggressive enough. If Boone’s proposal is even being considered for a vote, it would be hard to believe the city is at all serious about the problems to come, or anything close to affordable, resilient, or equitable.


Add a Comment