Kicked Out: Cobb County families say they are not wanted in rental properties

A CBS46 Investigation discovered a growing problem with affordable housing, as advocates demand change in Cobb County.
Published: Jul. 28, 2022 at 12:42 PM EDT
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MARIETTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Tenants say they are being kicked out of their apartments — not because they aren’t paying rent — but instead, how they pay rent. A CBS46 investigation found “source of income discrimination” is widespread, just as the metro’s housing market explodes.

“Poor people are being pushed out of Cobb,” Susan Mealer said.

That’s how she describes the past year facing housing insecurity. Everything Mealer loved had to be packed into the boxes which sat behind her, including her late husband.

“So disrespectful, you know, that I had to put him in a box and pack him away like he was nothing,” she explained.

The urn not only holds his ashes, but Mealer’s hope, or at least what remains of it after Azure at Riverside Apartments posted a letter on her door last year.

“Basically, if you have the section 8 voucher, ‘we don’t want it,’” she recalled.

CBS46 Investigates obtained a copy of the letter which was a 60 day notice to leave. The grandmother says she regularly paid roughly $700 rent. The letter suggests she didn’t get the boot because of a lack of payment, instead because of the type of payment.

Ultimately, Mealer faced homelessness — shuffling from hotels and friends’ homes.

“It really does feel illegal because too many people are going through this that are losing their home. If you don’t have a place to stay, then you’re losing your job, your car. Some people are even losing their mind,” Mealer explained.

The landlord, according to the letter, no longer wants section 8 tenants. It reads in part, “we are not participating in the renewal of any MHA lease,” also know as Marietta Housing Authority leases, the local division of the federal housing choice voucher program, or section 8.

About 10 minutes away from Mealer, another mom with a similar struggle, Cynthia Johnson.

“It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse,” she claimed.

Johnson relies on section 8 too, but after 65 calls, she could not find an area apartment with a similar rent rate, in safe conditions, willing to accept it.

“I was on the verge of having a stroke. And I’ve never had to experience this in my life,” Johnson said.

A Common Problem

In the U.S., low income families can seek assistance from the government to help pay rent by applying to the housing choice voucher program (section 8). If approved, the the government pays for part or all of the tenant’s rent.

In cities like Marietta, signing up from the program can be difficult in itself. Marietta Housing Authority currently has a wait-list to sign up.

But, what good is the program if landlords refuse to accept the vouchers or if there’s no penalty for landlords refusing it, advocates ask.

CBS46 found Mealer and Johnson’s stories are no coincidence. It’s a part of a pattern we uncovered in Marietta.

We went undercover, making calls and showing up, in search of an apartment. When we asked about moving forward with the tenant application using section 8, 17 of the 18 times, we were turned away.

The one time we were not turned away, the office manager described reluctance to rent to section 8 voucher recipients because of red tape, like required site visits or inspections that come with receiving a federal subsidy.

Turning away tenants because of how they want to pay for rent, is a legal form of discrimination in cities without specific legislation says Georgia State University Law Professor Courtney Anderson.

“Source of income discrimination is a really big issue,” Anderson explained. Saying it’s common, partly due to stigmas associated with section 8 tenants.

“If you want to kind of market your property in a certain way, you might not want to be seen as an affordable housing property.” Adding, “an ongoing bias about stigmatizing. It really complicates the safety net that’s put in place to protect everyone in society.”

Legal Intervention

Being kicked out, like Mealer, and being turned away, like Johnson, it would be considered illegal in the city of Atlanta.

The city of Atlanta is one of the only metro local governments to have housing legislation against source of income discrimination.

A law Marietta tenants have repeatedly begged for in Cobb County for the past year — sending emails explaining their worries and showing up to commission meetings. They expected their voiced concerns would be loud, but they feel the county’s lack of action spoke much louder.

“Imagine one day someone knocks on your door and puts you and your kids outside for no fault of your own? You have no where to go,” Johnson said.

Since our investigation, Johnson and Mealer have gotten help with housing — more than 6 months after facing their housing crises.

CBS46 called and left voicemails with Azure at Riverside Apartments to comment on non-renewals of section 8 leases, we have not heard back. CBS46 also reached out to Cobb County Commission, Jerica Richardson was the only one who agreed to interview about our findings in Marietta.

“I think you share something that should certainly be looked at, it’s concerning, Richardson said. “One of the things I’m interested in looking at is a kind of resident bill of rights or tenants bill of rights to a certain degree.

“To identify where there’s real opportunity to make some statement, but a statement that’s enforceable.”

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