Last Wednesday, June 20th, Georgia Legal Services hosted a community based forum at Savannah Technical College that addressed Savannah’s current eviction and affordable housing crises. The event, entitled “Dispossessed: The Impacts of Eviction,” featured a discussion panel with members from local housing-oriented organizations, including Family Promise Savannah, Chatham Savannah Authority for the Homeless, and Park Place Outreach, in addition to legal experts like Georgia Legal Services attorney Amanda Webb, Marc Roark from Savannah Law School and Martin Fretty of the City of Savannah.
According to Martin Fretty, the director of the City of Savannah’s Housing and Neighborhood Services Department, wages of modest-income households in Savannah have not kept pace with the cost of housing. “If you’re a single person trying to rent a decent two-bedroom place, you’d have to work almost three full-time 40-hour-per-week jobs,” Fretty said. “It just doesn’t work.”
A lack of affordable hous ing can lead to dire consequences, like increases in evictions, homelessness, crime, substance abuse, high school dropout rates, and mental health issues, members of the panel said. Marc Roark, who specialized in Real Property Law, said “From 2010 to 2017, more than 72,000 dispossessories [eviction notices] were filed in Chatham County in either the Magistrate Court or the State Court,” Roark said. Roark went on to list some of the “biggest serial dispossessors” in Savannah. Chatham City Apartments, Lanier Realty, and the Housing Authority of Savannah were the top three on his list.
Amanda Webb, an attorney from Georgia Legal Services who focuses primarily on landlord-tenant disputes and evictions, gave heart-wrenching examples of how unaffordable housing and the resulting eviction process can affect the Savannah community, like last winter when a woman was evicted because she refused to pay rent until her landlord fixed the heat. Webb said that most tenants are evicted because they owe approximately $500 to $900 dollars. Once evicted, if they end up homeless, the tax payer ends up paying between $30,000 to $50,000 per person per year. Clearly, eviction is not a cost-effective business model for the community as a whole.
“A challenge we face is that we don’t always seem to come together to work as a team to really push the change that we need in our community, to increase the quality of the supply of affordable housing,” said Cindy Kelly, executive director of the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless. But the panel seemed prepared to take on that challenge: Webb announced the formation of a new housing task force to find realistic solutions to this crisis moving forward. In addition to the organizations that participated in the event, the Housing Authority of Savannah has expressed interest in joining the task force as well.