Is Georgia’s Subsidized Housing Unsafe?

Low-income tenants of subsidized housing in Georgia shared harrowing stories of horrendous living conditions ignored by landlords with a U.S. Senate subcommittee Monday at a hearing in Roswell.

“My unit flooded constantly with raw sewage … floating pieces of fecal matter, eaten food and toilet-paper debris,” Miracle Fletcher, a former tenant at Trestletree Village Apartments in Atlanta, told the Senate Human Rights Subcommittee meeting at Roswell City Hall.

“The everyday smell of the foul odor of feces that would normally cause one to cringe after smelling it became the dreadful smell we endured daily.”

The subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., launched inquiries last fall with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) into alleged mistreatment of tenants by landlords in Georgia and nationwide. 

“We’ve heard from families who live in apartments plagued by severe mold and pest infestation, who lack basic plumbing, or whose floors were so rotten they collapsed,” Ossoff said at the start of Monday’s hearing.

“When many of these tenants asked their landlords for help, that help never came. And worse, they sometimes reported facing retaliation or eviction.”

Fletcher and other Georgia tenants of subsidized housing talked about similar experiences they have had when they complained to landlords.

Latysha Odom said she moved into Heritage Heights Apartments in Griffin in 2019 and soon discovered , her bedroom ceiling was leaking every few days.

“Each time, the management company told me it wasn’t a leak,” she said. “They blamed my upstairs neighbor, saying she was letting the toilet overflow or didn’t have a shower curtain.

“After consistent leaks, my ceiling actually collapsed. … The only thing the management company ever did was replace the ceiling panels, but that didn’t actually fix the problem. … No one came and actually fixed my ceiling until 2023.”

Esther Graff-Radford, a lawyer who represents tenants living in subsidized housing, said landlords receiving millions of dollar in government subsidies often ignore complaints from tenants forced to live in appalling conditions.

“These landlords are supposed to be providing housing that is kept up to a basic repair standard,” she said. “The sad truth is subsidized landlords in Georgia who are getting government rent money are not providing the basic housing we taxpayers are paying for.”

Graff-Radford said tenants who complain not only get nowhere with landlords, but HUD inspectors often take landlords’ word that repairs have been made.

“There’s no real consequence for the landlord,” she said. “People outside the metro-Atlanta area are often just out of luck when it comes to finding legal representation or alternative housing.”

Ayanna Jones, another lawyer who represents low-income tenants, said the federal government should do a better job enforcing laws against shoddy housing, starting with stepping up funding for inspections,

“Nobody’s going to change their behavior if there are no consequences,” she said. “There has to be more teeth behind these consequences.”

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