By Sophie Difusco

Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz tackled tough questions about affordable housing at a press conference on March 18, held at the University of Georgia. Girtz is running for reelection in the Athens-Clarke mayoral race on May 24.

Five other candidates qualified in the race, but Girtz said he is not running as an opponent to a group of people; rather he is running to continue to do great work as mayor.

Girtz faced numerous questions about safe and affordable housing options in Athens. 

“We know we have more work to do,” Girtz said. “We are very honest about that.” 

He introduced the idea of developing affordable senior housing units downtown. However, he also admitted that the luxury housing projects downtown are for students, to move them out of single-family neighborhoods and to bring them closer to campus. This information from Girtz did not clarify whether these developments would actually reach those who need downtown living and the walkable distance to necessities, or if the developments would only be filled with more students. 

Girtz also challenged the scrutiny on homelessness in Athens by discussing the First Step Alternative Housing Community which 11 Alive describes as a “government-sanctioned encampment of 50 tents in an open lot off Barber Street in Athens.” Athens-Clarke County’s government sanctioned homeless encampment | 

Girtz said that this encampment funnels people toward mental health and employment resources. While the housing is only made up of tents in a parking lot, it moves those in need one step forward with the end goal being permanent supported housing. The tenants are at least moved off of the street, given a roof above their head, and placed in a community.

He also praised the work that has been done in his term.

“We are doing the greatest outreach around capital expenditures that we’ve ever done.” He explained that government staff and county commissioners took the time to meet with constituents directly to figure out what each community needs in order to create specialized neighborhood reform plans.

Girtz is proud of what he has been able to accomplish in his previous term. Public appreciation for his efforts shall be revealed on May 24 when he is either re-elected or completes his time as mayor.