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Historic Westside http://leadership.saportareport.com/historic-westside/ Thought Leader Thought Leadership Uncategorized

Unique Community Collaborations Can Fight Displacement and Improve Housing Conditions

Introduction by John Ahmann, President & CEO, Westside Future Fund

Our guest columnist is Ayanna Jones-Lightsy, Co-Director of Safe and Stable Homes at Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation (AVLF). Last month, Ayanna spoke at the September 20th Transform Westside Summit as part of a panel discussion on wraparound services that support Hollis Innovation Academy families, especially focused on reducing student mobility and increasing housing security. The panel also featured representatives from the Parent Avengers, Quest Communities, CHRIS 180, and Westside Future Fund’s real estate team. 

In her column, Ayanna talks about the distressing effects of student mobility, which is the percent of students that start and finish the school year at the same school.  Reducing student mobility is critical to increasing academic outcomes because research indicates that students can lose up to a grade when they start and finish the school year at different schools.  Given the increased resources at Hollis to increase student academic outcomes, a high priority of the WFF is ensuring families with children enrolled at Hollis have housing security. It will take the Power of We to ensure Hollis has a low student mobility rate, comparable to schools in North Atlanta, such as Sarah Smith Elementary School.  

Thanks to AVLF, families who are at-risk of being displaced due to unsafe living conditions or unlawful evictions from disreputable landlords can get pro-bono legal assistance from volunteer lawyers at some of the top law firms. Already, they have assisted 93 Hollis families.

If you missed the most recent Summits – including the panel on the Hollis Innovation Academy Wraparound Services on September 20th and the launch of Home on the Westside on October 4th, you can catch a replay of the livestreams here and here.  Be sure to register and join me for the next Transform Westside Summit on November 1st. 

Unique Community Collaborations Can Fight Displacement and Improve Housing Conditions

Ayanna Jones-Lightsy, Co-Director of Safe and Stable Homes at Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation (AVLF).

By Ayanna Jones-Lightsy, Co-Director of Safe and Stable Homes at Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation

One of the key obstacles to student success is transiency and high mobility rates.  A child in a family that is constantly forced to move during the school year will have a harder time getting the instruction they need to succeed academically. Factor into this equation the hardships associated with poverty, and it becomes clear why many children have a hard time doing well in school under these circumstances.  

Stable homes are critical to the academic achievement of children.  A lack of stable, affordable housing causes severe obstacles for students’ academic performance.

The first question that should come to mind is “why”.  Why are families moving? Why is transiency so high? Although there are several components that affect whether a family moves, there are two major ones that stand out: high eviction rates and substandard housing conditions.

When Matthew Desmond—Professor of Sociology at Princeton and principal investigator of The Eviction Lab—conducted an exhaustive study of evictions across the country, he found that in 2016 there were over 21,000 eviction filings in Atlanta which resulted in approximately 16.94 evictions per day.  This is an incredibly high amount. There are certain areas of Atlanta that have a much higher eviction rate than others, and the zip codes in the Westside are among them.  

When a family is evicted, the court record of eviction is public record.  Any landlord can do a quick search and find out about potential renters and can refuse to rent to a family that has been evicted.  This “record” makes it harder for a family to get decent housing because the family is now forced to deal with less reputable landlords who will charge higher rates for worse housing. A family can be fearful of requesting repairs because they do not want to risk retaliation from the landlord, so they live in substandard housing with a list of poor conditions, including mold, rodents, insect infestations, crumbling infrastructure, and more. So families move when they can or when they are forced to by eviction or awful housing conditions. 

That move can happen in the middle of the school year, which severely disrupts the student’s ability to learn. And this can happen several times a year.

In cases of illegal or wrongful eviction or poor housing conditions, a lawyer can turn things around for a tenant. In 2016, our team at Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation (AVLF) began partnering with schools to see what impact the legal community could have on transiency and school mobility rates.  We first partnered with Purpose Built Schools through Thomasville Heights Elementary. In 2018, we were pleased to begin a partnership with Hollis Innovation Academy in the Westside. 

The idea is simple: place a lawyer and at least one community advocate in the school that is in a neighborhood facing high eviction rates and substandard housing.  By simply making legal services more central to the community, the likelihood that a family will take advantage of such services increases. 

Once a family engages an attorney to help them with a housing issue, they have a better chance of improving conditions and preventing eviction and displacement.  This decreases the likelihood of the family having to move from the neighborhood and disrupt the school year. 

Since the start of our partnership with Hollis Innovation Academy, we have assisted 93 families. We prevented 45 evictions, assigned 78 cases for representation, distributed 269 health and safety products, and assisted 45 families to get repairs made and improve conditions in the home. 

Creating innovative partnerships that bring together unlikely allies is just one of the many ways that the Westside community can be served and stabilized for the benefit of all Atlantans.

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