Ballot measure would help housing for people with mental illness

At the end of the Georgia ballot this year is a referendum that, if approved, would help nonprofits provide permanent housing to homeless people with mental illness.

Referendum B would allow a property tax exemption for nonprofit housing of these individuals in residences that get tax credit financing from for-profit business entities.

Phoenix House photos

3Keys is one such organization that would benefit from the proposal. It’s a nonprofit that provides 477 residential units in Fulton and DeKalb counties for people with mental illness who have been homeless. Supportive services are offered to the residents.


Because it used a business entity for financing of an Atlanta housing renovation, 3Keys lost a tax exemption for that property. It has to pay $30,000 in property taxes annually on the renovated property, Phoenix House in west Atlanta, which houses 69 people.

There’s “a big long waiting list’’ for permanent supportive housing, says Darlene Schultz, president and CEO of 3Keys.  Nonprofits that get tax credits must partner with for-profit entities for financing, she says.

The referendum stems from legislation passed by the Georgia General Assembly in 2017.

State Rep. Brett Harrell, a Snellville Republican who backed that legislation, said the proposal will allow public, nonprofit, and for-profit entities to “combine forces serving the needs of mentally disabled within our communities.“

Rep. Pat Gardner, an Atlanta Democrat, also supported the measure and is a 3Keys board member.

Gardner said she recently met a woman in her 50s who had lived in a car for years.

“She said that the most amazing thing was that she finally had a key to her own home,’’ Gardner told GHN. “She proudly turned over a plastic card with a key to a unit at Phoenix House.’’