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Atlanta’s emergency housing assistance program hasn’t taken online applications in nearly three months. What gives?

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Nearly three months have passed since the City of Atlanta closed the online application portal for its COVID-19 housing assistance program, and it’s still unclear when exactly people will again be able to apply for potentially vital help. 

In August, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced that, with the support of federal COVID-19 relief money, the city had launched a $22 million fund that would help people financially impacted by the pandemic pay rent, utilities and other housing-related bills. 

The online application portal for the program closed in mid-December, and it won’t reopen until at least next month, officials said on Thursday. 

City leaders, as well as officials with the program administrator, United Way of Greater Atlanta, have not yet told Atlanta Civic Circle when exactly the application window might reopen, nor have they addressed how much the fund has in its coffers — officials considered chopping it in half at the end of last year — or how much it could grow with new federal funding

United Way spokesman Chad Parker, however, provided the following statement in an email to ACC after this story was published:

To date, we have helped 5,989 households and distributed nearly $18 million for rental and mortgage assistance, utilities and security deposits. In April, we will be reopening the program with new CARES funding. We expect to learn the total next week. A new, more user-friendly online application process will available and in-person events will follow. For updates, you can follow us on social or check our website in April.

Confusing matters, at the end of January, Invest Atlanta — which does not play a role in the administration of the assistance program — published an Instagram post that said the online application portal would reopen on Feb. 1. When ACC reached out to confirm that plan with the mayor’s office, though, the post was deleted, and a city spokesperson said officials would not begin taking applications at that time. 

Subsequently, United Way posted an announcement on Instagram that said the application portal would “reopen soon,” and that “in-person application events will begin in February.” The post also noted that the online application window “will stay open for up to one week, depending on the number of applications.”

Asked for updates, mayor’s office spokesman Michael Smith assured ACC in February, “When I have an update and more info, I will circle back.” Parker, of United Way, added, “We’re asking for people to continue to check our website and follow us on social for further updates.”

Parker also said in a February email that “the reopening of applications for the Atlanta COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program has been postponed to ensure that all current applications in the pipeline have been processed before taking on any new applications.” 

Parker’s Thursday statement provided additional context:

The housing portal closed on Dec. 13 because there were more than 2,000 applications in the pipeline to process. While we were processing those applications, we held in-person events from November through February (with the exception of January) at United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Loudermilk Center downtown. Those events were helpful to those who had issues with the digital application process and were very successful in distributing funds.

In related news, Fulton County recently debuted its own housing assistance program, which enables residents to apply for up to $1,500 a month in help. The caveat, though: Atlantans aren’t eligible. 

This story was updated on March 11, 2021 at 2:49 p.m. to include remarks from a United Way spokesperson.

(Header image, via Britton Edwards: Atlanta City Hall)

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