Children Should Never Have to Call a Motel “Home”
By John Berry, Chief Executive Officer of St. Vincent de Paul Georgia
Poverty has moved to the suburbs. According to the 2017 Harvard University’s Joint Center for
Housing Studies, the number of people living in poverty has increased the most in suburban and
exurban communities. In the metro Atlanta area, the number of low-density, high poverty
exurban tracts rose from just 11 in 2000 to 72 in 2015. Unfortunately, homeless shelters and
other supportive infrastructure often do not follow them to the suburbs.
Compounding the growing poverty rates is the fact that housing costs continue to rise and
outpace growth in wages. Today, nearly half of all metro area renters spend in excess of 30% of
their incomes on rent. Our St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) caseworkers tell us it’s not uncommon
for them to see families spending more than 70% of their incomes on rent.
The clash of these two forces, rising poverty rates and lack of affordable housing, often has
tragic consequences for families. Faced with the prospect of living out of their car, many newly
evicted families choose their only option, moving in to extended stay hotels. This is one of the
“dirty secrets” uncovered by a by a recent study of extended stay motels. These hotels have
done what many local governments have not: provided an affordable housing option of last
resort for the working poor. Some 40% of those surveyed had resided in extended stay hotels
for more than a year.
The study, “When Extended Stay Becomes Home,” conducted by LiveNorcross, the Latin
American Association, Gwinnett Housing Corporation and UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of
Government also reveals that:
- These are working individuals and families
- These extended stay patrons are not chronically homeless
- The majority viewed living in a hotel as a temporary solution, but soon found themselves “stuck.” They live paycheck-to-paycheck with little money left over after paying for housing. For those unable to come up with the weekly rate, they end up paying more than $2,000 per month on daily rates at these hotels. This makes it very difficult to save for deposits, upfront rent and pay off past debt.
- Seventy-nine percent of these individuals indicated that they only needed temporary assistance until they can move into permanent housing.
Inspired by this study, SVdP Georgia and the United Way of Greater Atlanta (UWGA) have
joined forces to do something about it. We both agree that a motel is not a suitable long-term
home for children. With input from our SVdP Georgia caseworkers, program managers from
UWGA, apartment landlords and management companies, credit unions and credit counseling
agencies and extended stay residents, we are collaborating to create a program to help move
families from motels to homes. SVdP Georgia will provide much of the program design and case
management services while UWGA will provide matching funds for all donations from local
governments, corporations and private individuals.
We will begin working in communities where local governments are already committed to
finding a solution and are willing to help fund it. This is not as big of an ask of local
governments as it might seem. Here’s why and it’s another “dirty secret”: Georgia tax code
allows both local and county governments to levy and collect up to 8% in hotel-motel excise
taxes on each patron for up to 30 consecutive days. Much of this revenue is unrestricted and a
portion of it could be used to help the people actually living in them. This should be the starting
table stakes of any meaningful collaboration.
Let’s not wait for another school year to pass with children living in hotels. Ask your local
government what it is doing about families living in extended stay hotels. Consider donating to
the Motel to Home program at UWGA and they will match your donation. Let’s work together
to move these families to higher opportunity areas where they can thrive.