Former mayoral candidate Damon Krane announced April 8 he will be running for an at-large seat on Athens City Council, making him the most recent candidate to announce his intention to run.
One of the main focuses of his campaign is affordable and quality housing in Athens, a topic that has been addressed by multiple City Council candidates. Source-of-income discrimination by landlords and code enforcement have both played a large role in the issue, Krane said.
Krane refuted the argument that many people believe the city is unable to enforce a ban on source-of-income discrimination. The city would simply have to add source of income onto the pre-existing list of protected classes within Athens’ anti-discrimination ordinance, he said.
“The fact that we're going to hopefully prevent landlords from discriminating against people based on their income that’s, as someone who's a renter, kind of important to me,” Ben Ziff, At-Large city council candidate, said.
City Council 4th Ward candidate Alan Swank has discussed Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers in Athens. These vouchers are given to those with low income by the federal government to help provide safe, affordable housing.
“They (landlords) will take your cash, but they will not take a Section 8 Voucher, which is as good as money,” Swank said. “It's the same thing, it's a voucher. I believe they should take those, I’d take it a step further, I believe they should have to take those. Simple. And I would like Council to pass that legislation.”
Councilmember Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward and running for reelection, said providing more affordable housing is not as easy as telling landlords not to discriminate or that they must take vouchers. She described these issues as multi-faceted and difficult to address.
There are already laws against discrimination, she said, and in order to use a housing voucher, there is a specific rental process that must be followed. Fahl also discussed the new housing ordinance currently making its way through Council as a way to improve housing affordability in the city.
“I think the biggest problem is just the quality of housing and the quality of housing is a result of inadequate code enforcement and inadequate code enforcement is a result of the code enforcement office being understaffed and underfunded,” Krane said.
The code office does annual inspections of rental properties, but these inspections are very superficial, Krane said. Additionally, any issues within the code office have been exacerbated by the recent loss of one of the officers, leaving only three officers to conduct all inspections in the city, he said.
Although he believes many code inspections are brief and superficial, Krane said there is a high fail-rate requiring re-inspection at a later date. Additionally, he said there is too much time between a violation being found and re-inspection being conducted.
“The other reality of the situation is that code enforcement doesn't have the capacity to deal with things more quickly, either, because they're understaffed,” Krane said.
A large part of this understaffing can be attributed to a halt on hiring due to COVID-19, Fahl said. Now that COVID-19 appears to be winding down and there is a vacant position, the city is working on hiring to fill the position.
Swank presented a rough idea of how he would address understaffing and lack of resources within the code office. He described a type of reward system which would increase the time period between inspections if a landlord had a perfect inspection for a set number of years.
“These are hypothetical, but what that would do is, with our limited number of code officers, that would then free them up to focus more of their time on the repeat offenders,” Swank said.
Housing is not the only issue Krane is focusing on, however. Krane said he will be pushing for the racial equity review pledged by Council 10 months ago to be conducted, he said.
Krane sees this review as the jumping-off point for further reform of the Athens Police Department. This review should have been conducted before the new three-year police union contracts were passed, he said.
“She (Fahl) said (at the League of Women Voters Forum), ‘Well, we can't change policy until we know what's going on,’” Krane said. “The purpose of the racial equity review is to find out what's going on, of course you shouldn't change policy until you find out what's going on but, therefore you need to find out what's going on.”
Fahl counters Krane’s point of view, saying the Council has been working on the issue of racial equity.
“Nobody's seen all the things that we've been doing at the city level, and personally, to help drive those bad things out,” Fahl said. “The mayor has gone through language in the code, and brought things forward. That's big.”
Swank agreed that action should have been taken months ago.
“Do we want to say,” Swank said. “Or do we want to do?”
Further, Krane will take a look at parking enforcement, reducing the city’s carbon footprint and improving public health in the city.
As of April 16, he is focusing mainly on acquiring enough signatures to run as well as informing citizens of Athens about his platform. Although he was not elected as mayor in 2019, he feels as though simply running helps bring attention to the issues he is concerned about, he said.
“I'm just kind of excited to have a race with actual people. It's not going to be just three of us running for three seats and that's it. That's not an election, that's just winning by default,” Ziff said.