In the heart of downtown Athens, people experiencing homelessness line the intersection of College Avenue and Clayton Street. Homelessness rates in Athens have increased by 20% over the past year.
As Athens continues to build more luxury apartments and student housing, housing in Athens is becoming less expensive and less livable for many permanent residents of Athens. The lack of affordable housing often leaves local residents in Athens homeless. Nonprofit organizations like The Backpack Project and Our Daily Bread try to support the homeless population despite the challenges the community faces.
Luxury buildings limit affordable housing
The number of people who were homeless but are being housed — whether in temporary shelters, transitional shelters, rapid rehousing, etc. — has declined since last year, while the number of people who are homeless or homeless has more than doubled During the same period. a period.
Backpack Project co-director Claire Grant attributes the increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness to the lack of affordable housing in Athens. Instead of affordable housing, luxury apartments exclude local Athenians in desperate need of housing.
“We are building more and more luxury student housing,” Grant said. “What may be affordable for a college student is not necessarily affordable for a family or people who work two or three jobs and (who) may not have enough space for their children.”
Affordable housing in the Athens area is critical because 62% of renters make less than $50,000. Additionally, ACC has approximately 16,000 low-income families — those who earn less than $35,000.
Over the past 10 years, Athens has seen an influx of luxury apartment complexes catering to students. Furthermore, from 2020 to 2022, ACC saw a 15% increase in average rental costs. The current trend in the housing market is for owners to rent multi-bedroom homes to multiple students, rather than single-family homes. This allows the homeowner to make more money from rentals. In addition to marketing toward students, these complexes often include requirements in their leases that prevent local Athenians from renting.
The Standard, located at 600 N. Thomas St., requires all residents to fill out an application before renting. Some application requirements include a security deposit of 1.5 times the value of one month’s rent if tenants cannot provide an approved guarantor. The guarantor – in the case of The Standard’s terms – is someone who is “at least 25 years old, preferably a family member”. Guarantors sign the lease, guaranteeing that they will pay the rent if the resident fails to do so.
Such requirements prevent many locals in Athens from being able to afford housing.
Patrick Howard, community director for Our Daily Bread, another nonprofit that helps those experiencing homelessness, also mentioned recently evolving requirements in Athens leases.
“A lot of landlords require or have certain rental terms or policies that really apply more to college students than they do to local residents,” Howard said. “Your credit score has to be a certain thing. You can’t have anything on your record, and you have to have your first and last month’s (rent) up. A lot of places that don’t require that either don’t have it, or they’re not safe and affordable.”
In the case of many guests of Our Daily Bread Community Kitchen, compromise between a livable, safe and affordable home is the only way to afford housing in the area. Howard estimates that 80% of the guests he serves at Our Daily Bread experience homelessness.
August Affordable Housing Investment Strategy for Athens-Clarke County It states that while the number of households has increased by 20% over the past ten years, housing in Athens has grown by only 5%. The same report notes that four out of five homes in Athens are market rate, meaning they are not subsidized and therefore not legally required to be affordable for certain income levels.
ACC August Affordable Housing Investment Strategy
Even renters who find housing are affected by changes in the housing market in Athens. ACC’s August investment strategy also included a survey of renters in Athens. In the past five years, 71% of renters have seen rent increases of more than $100, and 29% have seen rent increases of more than $300. Additionally, 39% of those surveyed said high prices prevent them from becoming homeowners.
The August investment strategy focused on public support, land use and tenant rights. The main solution is to invest $5 million in a local housing fund. ACC’s current housing investment consists of an average of $1.7 million per year from the federal government. One of the many purposes these funds will be allocated to is expanding down payment assistance.
The ACC Mayor and Commission will vote on October 3rd to determine whether or not to implement the August Housing Investment Strategy.
Although nonprofits like The Backpack Project and Our Daily Bread Community Kitchen provide assistance to those experiencing homelessness in the city, homelessness rates continue to grow.
Nonprofit organizations in Athens address homelessness
The Backpack Project is a student-led non-profit organization that helps the Athens community by providing hot meals every Saturday. Sometimes their meals are served at the local shelter, Bigger Vision of Athens, and other times at the Athens-Clarke County Library. Additionally, the Backpack Project provides seasonal supplies, such as blankets and jackets in the winter, and bottled water and sunscreen in the summer, to local residents experiencing homelessness.
Grant, a master’s student at the University of Georgia, has noticed a trend of nonprofits “withering away” after undergraduate student volunteers leave or leadership changes. Since college students contribute significantly to the population of Athens, homelessness is in some way perpetuated by constant population change.
“We’re trying really hard to work on making our organization sustainable for the future because we don’t want to kind of disappear,” Grant said. “The people of Athens have witnessed this for years and years.”
Grant wants local college students to “be aware of what’s going on outside of college and get involved where they can,” and then “take that wherever they go next, get involved in the community there and really learn about the community outside of their bubble.”
“There’s this term in social work: upstream and downstream interventions,” Grant said. “The upstream interventions are basically policy and community matters. And then the downstream interventions are people who are actually in need and are already in crisis.
The Backpack Project provides downstream interventions by providing food to those experiencing homelessness. But Grant pointed out the importance of intervention in the initial and final stages. Furthermore, Grant highlighted the importance of nonprofits collaborating to meet community needs.
“We’re doing our best to support these more sustainable, long-term interventions in any way we can, through community partnerships and things like that,” Grant said.
Howard from The Backpack Project said something similar about the nonprofit community in Athens.
“One of the things I’ve seen in my short time in the nonprofit sector, and even what I’ve heard from others who have been working longer than me, is that this is my limit,” Howard said. “We’ve seen organizations working with each other versus working on themselves,” Howard said. .