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Although the federal eviction moratorium has once again been extended, local housing experts foresee a swell of evictions that could force tens of thousands of metro Atlantans out of their homes.
To brace for the wave of displacement, Atlanta City Councilman Matt Westmorland pushed legislation to donate a total of $20,000 to two intown legal agencies who advocate for renters and fight eviction proceedings in court.
The new ordinance, which council members adopted last week, provides $10,000 to the Atlanta Legal Aid Society (ALAS) and the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation (AVLF), two organizations that specialize in providing legal assistance to lower-income metro Atlantans.
ALAS executive director Steve Gottlieb told Atlanta Civic Circle that his organization is “incredibly grateful” for Westmoreland’s ordinance, and that the funds will be used to assist renters who find it “hard to navigate the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s] system” to secure moratorium protection, as well as help them with other housing issues.
Too many renters, he added, don’t realize they have to file paperwork with the CDC to be shielded from eviction.
Michael Lucas, AVLF’s executive director, echoed that sentiment, telling Atlanta Civic Circle that the money “will primarily fund our work at the Housing Court Assistance Center, the courthouse-based office that helps tenants answer evictions, assert their rights under any moratoria and connect to rental assistance.”
“Providers in the community need all the support they can get so that we may stand with Atlantans during this crisis that is already upon us,” he continued.
AVLF is also one of the city’s partners for its emergency housing assistance program, which is currently in the process of distributing a $15 million pot of federal money to renters and landlords having trouble paying bills due to the pandemic.
Through other fundraising efforts, Lucas said, “we are able to stand up an expanded team to help get assistance out faster in a moment of crisis.”
Westmoreland told Atlanta Civic Circle that the city has disbursed about a third of its $15 million — the second batch of federal funding, after the first $22 million was dispatched.
“There is going to be a third wave of [federal] rental assistance money,” he said, “so we’re continuing to learn from the first two rounds.”
Westmoreland knows the city donations approved in his ordinance won’t stave off the looming torrent of evictions — which experts have predicted could cost upwards of $91 million to fight statewide — and he said other measures will be necessary to lessen the blow.
He’s also been urging city leaders to make better use of the hundreds of acres of city-owned, development-ready land identified by Atlanta’s planning department.
Westmoreland said in an April interview that he expects that property “could have the potential to generate tens of thousands of affordable units” — a much-needed boost to the city’s affordable housing stock at a time when the pandemic has exacerbated already vast economic disparities.