Housing bills among new state laws taking effect July 1


ATLANTA – With housing – particularly affordable housing – in short supply across Georgia, two new state laws about to take effect are aimed at an especially challenging group affected by the shortage: the homeless.

The two bills, which the General Assembly passed overwhelmingly this year, are among a host of new laws covering a wide range of policy areas that take effect July 1.

On the housing front, lawmakers passed the Safe at Home Act offering new rights to tenants of rental properties designed to curb a high eviction rate in Georgia that drives up homelessness. The second housing bill brings an accountability component to the State Housing Trust Fund intended to help Georgians overcome the root causes that lead to homelessness.

House Bill 404, the Safe at Home Act, provides renters in Georgia new rights by requiring rental properties to be “fit for human habitation” upon signing a lease. Landlords also will be required to maintain their properties throughout the lease.

“It’s pretty common-sense stuff,” said state Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton, the bill’s chief sponsor. “We shouldn’t have people living in third-world conditions in a first-world country.”

Elizabeth Appley, a lawyer and public policy advocate in Georgia, said the bill is long overdue.

“We’ve been working on it for a number of years,” she said. “Georgia is an outlier in providing even basic protections (for tenants).”

House Bill 1410 amends the State Housing Trust Fund for the Homeless by requiring program participants for the first time to meet certain accountability requirements to qualify. Those eligible to enroll in the new program can receive funding for transitional housing for up to 18 months.

“This is really the Georgia way to address homelessness,” said House Majority Leader Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, the bill’s chief sponsor. “Right now, federal funds prohibit testing participants for sobriety. By prohibiting testing for sobriety, participants face the same challenges they did while homeless. … This is to put them on the path to sobriety.”

Unlike the federal program, Georgia’s approach will require participants to maintain sobriety from drug or alcohol use, participate in job training while pursuing an active search for employment, take part in mental health care and substance abuse counseling if necessary, and submit to drug and alcohol testing.

Efstration said House Bill 1410 moves Georgia away from the Housing First approach, which asserts that anyone experiencing homelessness should be connected to a permanent home as quickly as possible, and programs should remove requirements for sobriety or absence of a criminal record.

“The federal restrictions, I believe, are a barrier to fixing the problem,” he said. “This comes from my experience as an accountability court prosecutor.”

But Appley said forcing homeless applicants to comply with a series of requirements before they can qualify for housing and get a roof over their heads is the wrong approach.

“Housing First is a model that works to help homeless people leave homelessness,” she said. “Without that, it’s hard if not impossible to meet these requirements.”

Whatever qualms some lawmakers might have had about imposing accountability requirements on the homeless evidently were overcome by a dire need for housing in Georgia. House Bill 1410 cleared the General Assembly with only one “no” vote in the House and one in the Senate.

“What we need is more funding for housing in Georgia,” Appley said. “It’s desperately underfunded.”

Other bills that will take effect on Monday include:

  • House Bill 1010 –  doubles paid parental leave for state workers following the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child in their home, providing a total leave of up to 240 hours. The General Assembly passed legislation three years ago authorizing 120 hours of paid parental leave for state employees.
  • House Bill 1332 – The No Patient Left Alone Act ensures visitation rights for patients in hospitals or nursing homes. The bill was championed by Rep. Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin, whose mother died alone of COVID in a hospital.
  • Senate Bill 420 – prohibits foreign nationals or agents of foreign nationals from countries designated as adversaries by the U.S. Commerce Department from buying agricultural land in Georgia.
  • Senate Bill 494 – establishes regulations for the licensing and production of hemp products and prohibits their sale to anyone under age 21.
  • House Bill 1341 – declares the white shrimp Georgia’s official crustacean, a move designed to promote the product in restaurants and grocery stores.