Fighting for a Healthy Mechanicsville

I want to extend a big thank you to Dave Huddleston and the WSB-TV team for providing me with space to talk about Mechanicsville and the health disparities our community is facing. We’re working every day to improve the quality of life of the people in our community, and I hope the awareness will encourage our leaders to take action.

While these disparities might be alarming for some observers, this is not particularly revelatory for the folks that live in Mechanicsville or in surrounding communities. Just a few years ago, Georgia State students engaged with residents to develop a prioritized list of community concerns around environmental hazards, and flooding, air pollution, and brownfields were at the top of the list of concerns.

This is nothing new.

In the interview, I tried to highlight the intersection between tenants’ rights, air quality, economic racism, and even street design and safety. But as is the norm with these things, some of my comments didn’t make it to the broadcast. So I’ll add a bit more here:

For context, more than 70% of Mechanicsville residents are renters, and many of those renters live in substandard housing conditions that negatively affect health outcomes. Mold, infestations, and illegal evictions drive up the mental stress that was mentioned in the story. And physically, black mold drives up rates of asthma and other chronic respiratory conditions which disproportionately impacts children. And that’s worsened by the fact that our neighborhood is at the convergence of *three* interstate corridors, so air quality is dismal outdoors as well. It’s no wonder that NPU-V has one of the highest pediatric asthma rates in the country. More on that here:

Potentially, healthy lifestyles can help counteract many of these issues. But it’s exceedingly difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle in our communities. On one hand, most of NPU-V is defined as a food desert by the US Department of Agriculture, so access to fresh foods and vegetables are extremely limited. On the other, poor access to safe streets makes it hard to change behaviors. Try walking or biking out of Mechanicsville to Castleberry Hill, or Pittsburgh, or Summerhill, or West End. Trains routinely block critical connections and highway access encourages motorists speeding at 60 miles an hour on city streets compound a transportation situation that’s already exceedingly dangerous and difficult.

Needless to say, we have a ways to go. With that said, I’m extremely proud of our communities, our supporters, and our advocates who are working tirelessly to improve the quality of life of our neighbors. Specifically, I want to shout out some of the organizations putting in the work to make Mechanicsville and NPU-V a better place to live.

I’m proud of Housing Justice League and their fight for tenants’ rights and their efforts to hold these terrible landlords accountable. Their eviction defense tools have helped countless families fight displacement in a rapidly changing city.

I’m proud of Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation’s work through their Standing with Our Neighbors initiative which provides legal services to ensure tenants don’t have to live with black mold and unclean air-filters.

I’m proud of Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, who through their Shifting Gears program, provides second graders with bicycle safety training during the school day. Their work with our kids at Dunbar Elementary has helped grow the next generation of urban cyclists by exposing them to healthy lifestyle choices. 

I’m proud of the work of the Mechanicsville-based Center for Black Women’s Wellness, Inc for their commitment to improving the health and well-being of underserved Black women and their families. Their Atlanta Healthy Start Initiative serves approximately 300 pregnant and postpartum women and infants annually. 

And last but not least, I’m proud of ECO-Action‘s work in educating community members on environmental justice advocacy and education.

But local advocacy nonprofits can only do so much. If leaders want to improve public health outcomes in Mechanicsville and in similar communities, then they absolutely need to put policies in place that will support our black, brown, and marginalized families. We need multi-generational solutions from all levels of government. The City of Atlanta will have elections next year, but there are state offices that are up for election right now. Get involved if you aren’t already.

We’ve got to do better. And we shouldn’t have to wait until I’m dead at 65 before it gets better.

Talking Veteran Issues on Closer Look

Did you catch me on WABE yesterday? Truly thankful to speak with Rose Scott and talk about Hire Heroes USA and our work addressing the challenges facing transitioning military veterans. You can check the whole thing out here.

And if you’d like to learn more, check out the conversation that Emory is hosting with the New York Times this evening. The event is free, and I’ll be speaking more in-depth about the obstacles that veterans are facing in the civilian workplace.

Recycle y’all!

I’m grateful to have been featured in the Atlanta Journal Constitution over the weekend.

“As an avid recycler, Dozier said he would want to see more transparency about the costs of recycling before being convinced of any need to charge residents for contamination. “There has to be a very deliberate process that is very communication driven and resident driven and is very education focused. You don’t want to turn people off,” he said.”

My larger point here is that while fines have their place, using them aggressively can discourage people from bothering to recycle in the first place. *points to head* You can’t get fined for mixing in the wrong materials in with your recycling if you don’t recycle at all.

Fines disproportionately impact black, brown, and poor people. If you want to improve recycling standards, then education is a much more effective tool than forcing punitive measures onto the folks living in the margins.

Mourning the Passing of Lonnie King

I’m truly and deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Atlanta legend and Civil Rights icon Lonnie King. In 1960, Mr. King, together with Atlanta University Center students including Julian Bond, Roslyn Pope, Carolyn Long and others authored ‘An Appeal for Human Rights’, which effectively launched the sit-ins and protests now collectively known as the Atlanta Student Movement. Mr. King spoke truth to power in opposition to the inaction and political agnosticism expressed by the leadership of Morehouse and other Atlanta University Center institutions. I believe that Atlanta is Atlanta because of that the legacy that he and others created for this city and this country. Needless to say, I was truly honored and thankful to have earned Lonnie’s support when I ran to represent these very same communities and institutions at City Hall. To say that we stand on the shoulders of giants is a massive understatement. My heart goes out to Mr. King and his family.

Bridges to Nowhere

Y’all. I’m super tempted to be flippant about this. “Atlanta gon’ Atlanta” and such and such. But I’m livid.

a) Building this thing was an “emergency” because not only was the Super Bowl looming, but the city signed contracts nearly double what City Council had approved back in 2016. It just had to get done, right? Contracts were signed. No time for debate, or deliberation, or accountability.

From the AJC: “Completing the project is considered an emergency now because the city will host the Super Bowl in February 2019.

b) It was so much of an “emergency” that to pay for the project, the City had to raid Renew Atlanta premiums. It so happens that now many of those projects are underfunded and have to be re-baselined.

From Curbed: “One point of contention involves the roughly $19 million in Renew Atlanta bond premiums that were used to pay for the construction of the serpentine pedestrian bridge near Mercedes-Benz Stadium, especially in light of news that some projects on the bond program are at risk of being underfunded or nixed entirely.”

c) And now, after all that, the bridge will be closed for the Super Bowl. It’s a big middle finger to Atlantans. Her citizens, her businesses, her taxpayers. The City argued that the bridge would “provide pedestrians safe and unimpeded access to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.” It’d “save residents’ lives”, supposedly.

But now what? If the existing crossing is apparently sufficient for the Super Bowl, then what was all of the fuss about in the first place? How did we get here?

I honestly don’t care if the closure is the fault of the City or MARTA or the NFL. This is unacceptable and we all should be asking questions.

Enough is enough. As it turns out, last year’s Council approval was decided with an 8-7 vote. One vote was the difference that set us on this path. One vote was the difference that did a massive disservice to the residents of Vine City, English Avenue, and Downtown. One vote was the difference as to why safe and complete streets are at risk of being underfunded or canceled across the City of Atlanta.

We all have one vote too. While the next round of city-wide elections isn’t until 2021, District 3 voters have an opportunity to make real and immediate change much sooner than that. There’s a special municipal election on March 19th, and that election could tip the balance of our city. I can’t vote in that race, but I can donate my time and treasure to making real change happen. With that, I’m extremely proud to be supporting my friend Greg Clay in his endeavor to build a better Atlanta. I just donated to his campaign, and I hope you will join me in matching that donation. Greg is fighting to improve the safety, affordability, mobility, and education of District 3 residents and I know he be will do a phenomenal job on City Council. And most importantly, he will be an independent voice fighting for the best interests of all of our city’s residents. You can donate to Greg here:

And you can learn more about Greg and his campaign here:

Fighting Back Against the Property Tax Squeeze

Over the past several weeks, Atlanta residents have been scrambling to figure out how to address the onerous property tax assessments sent out by the Fulton County Assessor’s Office. Property values increased roughly 30 percent countywide, but unlike last year, the county shows no signs of rolling back assessments.

In summary of what we’re seeing: looking at residential properties across the City of Atlanta (Fulton), median appraisals were $102,400 in 2017 but $163,200 in 2018, with a median valuation increase of $40,600. The median change in valuation percentage is 34.09%, and the median tax liability is $2,819.44.

There is an ongoing debate related to how governments should respond to this increased valuation of property. While the City of Atlanta has rolled back millage rates to remain “revenue-neutral,” Atlanta Public Schools likely won’t make a decision on whether to follow a similar path until later this month. The Georgia Assembly took action as well, with state leaders seeking to cap increases in valuations at 2.6% each year, in addition to new homestead exemptions for Atlanta residents (both measures go before voters this November).

When I ran for Atlanta City Council, I sought to address housing affordability in a meaningful way. Reconciling our tax system was one part of that discussion–though many people correctly associate tax burdens with homeownership, high taxes also negatively impact renters, businesses, and non-profit institutions. Homeowners are just one set of stakeholders in an issue that clearly affects everyone.

While long-term, sustainable solutions are still years away, residents can take some steps to ensure tax relief right now. Each year, many residents are encouraged to apply for homestead exemptions offered by Fulton County and the City of Atlanta. While these present significant savings, eligibility for most of these programs requires residents to be at least 65 years old or be a disabled veteran. And now that it’s July, it’s worth noting that the deadline for exemptions applications happened back in April.

There’s still hope, however.

Property tax appeals are an important recourse for homeowners. While the appraisal process is an imperfect system that can seem unpredictable, appeals play an important role in ensuring fairness. Here’s how to make the most out of the appeals process:

  • Homeowners can file their appeals online or through the mail. Both methods allow for residents to attach additional documents in support of the appeal. The more details residents provide, the better chance there is to have a successful appeal.
  • The deadline to file an appeal is July 6th, so act quickly.
  • Typically, appeals are filed on the basis of uniformity (consistency across the same class of housing) or the value of the home (changes in appraised value). In both cases, homeowners will have to build a case, and use that case to declare a more accurate opinion of value.
  • If filing based on value, it would be beneficial to include as many photos as possible showing issues that may devalue the home. Structural problems, floodplains, and proximity to treatment plants all impact the value of the home, and homeowners should be prepared to provide evidence indicating why the appraisals are incorrect.
  • If filing due to uniformity, property owners are more likely to be successful if they can document other comparable properties. Using tools like Trulia and Zillow, residents can find homes that have similar amenities, locations, bedrooms, and square footage. Residents should review recent sales in their neighborhood from last year (specifically any between January 1 and December 31, 2017) and use that data to help gauge accuracy–that also includes identifying whether renovated properties are driving up valuations as well.
  • If the appeal is successful, then the property’s value will be frozen for three years.

Fulton County has recently updated their property tax portal, and it’s much easier to use than before. While this portal useful for identifying individual properties, I decided to create the below interactive visualization to more easily identify appraisals across entire communities to help with uniformity appeals.

The left map highlights percentage changes from 2017 to 2018, while the right map highlights changes in total dollars comparing the same years. Hovering over parcels on both maps will display the Parcel ID, Address, the 2017 valuation, the 2018 valuation, the percentage change between the two, the total change between the two in dollars, and the tax hit for each property (based on a total millage rate calculation of 43.19, and assuming homeowners don’t file an exemption or that millage rates remain unchanged by the end of the month).

Note that the map search functionality is a bit limited–I recommend entering your ZIP code in the search bar if you have trouble finding your neighborhood.

This is a challenging and uncertain time for many residents. While answers may seem few and far between, at the very least, I hope that this write-up is informative. Please share if any of your friends, family members, or neighbors could find this useful as well!

Hello, Atlanta

Not quite “hello, world”, but this works just the same.

I’m Jason Dozier, and I’m a former candidate for Atlanta City Council.

It turns out that despite 13 months of active campaigning (plus an additional several months of behind-the-scenes relationship-building, researching, and soul-searching), I’m not quite ready to sit on the sidelines. 244 votes is the kind of gap that will force you to think long and hard about every decision from the last year and a half. But rather than dwell on the past, I’m looking towards the future. My passion, energy, and desire for change hasn’t subsided one bit, and if anything, it’s motivated me even more despite the setback.

As I said at the end of our race, the work to make Atlanta a better city is ceaseless, and I’ll continue to fight, agitate, and play a part in the soul-searching discussions and debates that will make Atlanta a stronger, more united city.

Hopefully my writing will accurately reflect that work.

I’ll do my best to not to disappoint.