Skip to contents

Why This Black Lawmaker is Pushing Rent Control Legislation

Local activists fighting for tenant rights in the city say a bill introduced by Sen. Donzella James gives them hope.

A new bill would end Georgia’s 39-year-old ban on rent control laws. It would be the first step to bringing rent control to Atlanta. (Getty Images)

A veteran member of the Georgia General Assembly is calling for an end to the state’s 39-year-old ban on rent control laws.

State Sen. Donzella James on Thursday introduced a bill that would repeal sections of Georgia law barring local governments from issuing rent regulation restrictions.

Georgia lawmakers issued a statewide ban on such laws back in 1984. James said she also plans to put a cap on the “ever-increasing rental rates” for houses and apartments, which have been having a major impact on Black residents in certain Atlanta neighborhoods.

James said she wants to give elected officials more power to combat rising rents. 

“This is just another bill to try to make things fair,” James told Capital B Atlanta. “I’m committed to the people and not the politics. I’ve got to make sure our people are taken care of.”

Community activist Margie McLeod, who lives in Atlanta’s Cascade neighborhood, asked James to introduce pro-rent control legislation during a Jan. 30 meeting at the senator’s office.

McLeod and fellow organizers Ronnie Mullin and Jodi Williams began campaigning on the issue of rent control last April, at a time when rent prices were rising sharply across the city.

McLeod said she grew tired of seeing her neighbors getting booted from their homes and forced into homelessness or to move in with family members after property owners dramatically raised their rents.

She was pleased to hear James was taking legislative action on the issue.

“I feel great about it,” McLeod said regarding the rent control ban repeal bill. “There’s hope that it can be done.”

Right now, James’ bill doesn’t have any co-sponsors, but she expects that to change soon. She said other members of Georgia’s Legislative Black Caucus voiced support for the measure at the group’s annual retreat on Saturday.

“They said, ‘Let us know what we can do,’” James said of her fellow GLBC members. “This is something that we need to stop the escalating prices. They’re going up. They agreed with that.”

James said she plans to have renters speak to state legislators during committee hearings on the bill to help lawmakers understand how bad the state’s affordable housing crisis has become.

She acknowledged that getting Republicans in the GOP-led General Assembly to support repealing the rent control ban presents more of a challenge. James said she has briefly discussed the matter with some GOP members.

“Three of them asked me, ‘Now, what is this you’re trying to do?’” James said. “They are saying that [lifting the rent control ban] didn’t work well for them because now building owners can’t keep the house, the building up because the rent is too low, but that’s not true.”

Economists have debated how effective rent control laws are at keeping prices down. Critics argue such policies reduce the supply of apartments in a given area, which in turn drives up the price of market-rate units.

Supporters argue rent control ensures a percentage of apartments will remain affordable for working and middle-class families who meet income or need-based requirements. 

Regardless, the rising costs of rent across the nation is an issue the Biden administration has been looking to address.

Due to the statewide ban on rent control, Atlanta City Council members have not pushed for a public vote. Council members introduced the Tenant’s Bill of Rights last June, and urged state lawmakers to lift the rent control ban two years ago, with no success. The resolution was adopted in October.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and Gov. Brian Kemp have pushed to increase the supply of houses and apartments as a means to reduce housing costs.

McLeod said she believes Republicans will eventually support the bill because high rents are affecting voters in their communities as well.

“It’s not just hurting [Black people]. It’s hurting everybody,” she said.