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The Rent Control Bill Stalled, but This Activist Isn’t Done Fighting

Legislation that would’ve lifted Georgia’s 39-year-old ban hit a snag, but a local resident and lawmaker aren’t giving up.

Atlanta affordable housing advocates Rodney Mullins (from left) and Margie McLeod pose with state Sen. Donzella James during a meeting inside the state Capitol. (David Jones)

Margie McLeod spent Tuesday outside the Georgia State Capitol in downtown Atlanta trying to sway lawmakers to support a bill she already knew was unlikely to get signed into law this year.

“I’m not the type of person to give up,” the 75-year-old community activist told Capital B Atlanta on Wednesday. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

McLeod and her supporters have spent the past year campaigning for a rent control law in Atlanta. In February, she met with state Sen. Donzella James, who sponsored SB 125 soon after.

The bill would have repealed Georgia’s 39-year-old ban on local rent regulation, allowing elected leaders in metro Atlanta and elsewhere to limit how much landlords can charge tenants per month. The bill failed to gain a single co-sponsor ahead of the General Assembly’s Crossover Day deadline on Monday.

Rent prices in Atlanta have soared in recent years amid a metro area real estate boom. Since then, the rising cost of rent has forced some of McLeod’s neighbors in Atlanta’s Cascade neighborhood to move to more affordable areas outside the city, she said.

Technically, SB 125 could still be added as an amendment to other legislation, but the odds aren’t great, according to James.

“SB 125 did not get the recognition that we needed,” she said. “It’s too late to get it [signed into law] this year, but we can still have hearings on it.”

James said other Democratic lawmakers and the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, where she serves as Senate whip, voiced support for rent regulation during meetings and conversations she’s had with them since introducing SB 125 in early February.

“They said, ‘You’re right. We’ve got to do something, and we’ve got to do it fast,’” James said.

But other bills addressing Georgia’s health care crisis, crime, insurance, and business policy were bigger priorities for Democrats this legislative session, according to James.

“We are going to continue to work on [rent regulation], but it’s not going to be the number one and two issue,” she said. “We need to have the time to push forward good law and good perspectives.”

An Atlantic Station development is seen here. Rent prices in Atlanta have soared in recent years amid a metro area real estate boom. (Davel5957/Getty Images)

It’s not over yet

James, who also serves as chairman of the Senate’s Urban Affairs committee, says the fight for rent control is still on. The focus now is on building and showing public support for rent regulation in hopes of getting a related law passed this time next year.

James said she plans to invite residents across Georgia with concerns about rising rents to speak to other General Assembly members between now and January 2024 in hopes of getting state lawmakers to pass SB 125 or a similar measure during next year’s legislative session.

“We’ll have from April to next January to sell this,” James said. “We are also looking at other ways to reduce ever-increasing [rent prices] or to put a stop or a cap on it.”

Showing support in Atlanta

McLeod has her own plan to show public support for rent control.

She intends to continue pressing Atlanta City Council members to pass a resolution allowing their constituents to vote on whether they’d be in favor of a local rent control law if the statewide ban is repealed.

She pointed out that Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said in early February that he’d be conditionally in favor of creating an Atlanta rent control policy if General Assembly members lift their statewide ban. 

Atlanta city law sections highlighted by the municipal clerk’s office earlier this year suggest City Council members may be required to call for an election within 30 days after a petition for an “ordinance or resolution” has been signed by 15% of registered voters.

“All we have to do is get a certain amount of signatures [saying] that we want rent control to be put on the ballot and let the people vote for it,” McLeod said. 

Council members said earlier this year that state law bars them from putting rent control policy on the ballot. In 2020, the council passed a resolution urging the General Assembly to lift its ban on rent control. 

But James suggested local lawmakers do have the power to let their constituents voice their views via ballot initiative.

“It brings a clarity on what they perceive should happen in their area,” she said. “They can cry out for more local control.”