Localized eviction bans would render some much-needed breathing room to renters at risk of displacement due to the pandemic, especially as governments across Georgia sluggishly distribute federal funds meant to help keep financially burdened tenants at home. 

That’s according to the heads of legal organizations that specialize in supporting lower-income metro Atlantans, as well as local housing experts. Executive directors Michael Lucas, of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation (AVLF), and Steve Gottlieb, of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, told Atlanta Civic Circle that the abrupt demise of the federal eviction moratorium has spurred an immediate need for more protections for renters. 

“AVLF supports a local moratorium on evictions while local governments work to distribute critical rental assistance to tenants in need,” Lucas said, later adding,  “Our hope would be that a new moratorium would allow more time to get more money to tenants and landlords and stabilize Atlanta families.”

Gottlieb echoed Lucas’ desire for more eviction freezes at the county and even state level, saying in a Tuesday interview, “If we aren’t under the gun, we can help keep more people from being thrown out.” 

At the moment, DeKalb County is the only government in metro Atlanta that’s effected its own blanket eviction moratorium. Officials enacted the eviction ban after a cyberattack in March crippled the county’s emergency rental assistance program, and the logic behind the moratorium — which was extended earlier this week — perfectly illustrates Lucas and Gottlieb’s point: More time means more money to more people. 

It’s hard to say, though, why exactly other jurisdictions haven’t created their own moratoria — even for a short period to buy them time to distribute federal emergency rental assistance money.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms last year issued an executive order that prohibits municipal property managers — including Atlanta Housing, the Atlanta Beltline, Invest Atlanta and others — from booting tenants for nonpayment of rent. That moratorium is still in effect, although eviction proceedings are dealt with at the county level, so city officials’ hands are tied when it comes to directly preventing eviction enforcement.

It seems, however, that Fulton County is fully capable of halting evictions while officials there work to distribute federal rent relief money. Whether the county government will do such a thing remains to be seen. 

Fulton spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt told Atlanta Civic Circle last month that the county attorney was looking into the prospect of temporarily halting evictions countywide. “The county attorney has indicated that this has to come from the Superior Court,” she said this week. “I have reached out to the Superior Court admin folks again and will let you know what I hear back.”

In the county’s defense, Corbitt added, “Fulton County is doing better than most on our distribution rates.” The county has spent almost all of the $18 million the federal government allocated it in March, meaning officials are soon to begin dipping into the second tranche of funding, a $24 million pot.

Fulton also recently lifted the cap on the amount of money renters in need can request from the county and extended the length for which they can get assistance from six to 18 months. 

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) did just the same, although the state hasn’t expressed any interest in enacting its own eviction moratorium. Officials at the DCA and Gov. Brian Kemp’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. 

Statewide eviction moratoria aren’t common, but they exist in some fashion in a handful of states, including California, New York and Illinois

In Illinois, for instance, county courts continue to process eviction filings, although enforcement — the legal act of actually forcing people to leave their homes — is on hold until at least Sept. 18. 

Illinois has dispatched about a third of its federal emergency rental relief funds, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Georgia, meanwhile, has spent less than 5 percent of the money it got from the feds. 

“Georgia’s eviction law has very few tenant protections,” Elora Raymond, Georgia Tech associate professor of city and regional planning told Atlanta Civic Circle last month. “Evictions are very cheap, they progress very quickly and even when tenants have representation” — from, say AVLF or Atlanta Legal Aid — “it is hard to win because tenants have very few defined rights.”

“We could use more protections,” she said.

Atlanta Housing (AH) CEO Eugene Jones, in a text to Atlanta Civic Circle, said he, too, would endorse eviction bans at the state and local levels.

Jones said last month that he expects the waitlist for AH services — which already stretches on with around 25,000 names — to explode in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to kill the federal eviction moratorium.

Essentially, following these experts’ reasoning, Georgia’s need to buy itself more time to divvy up that money is incredibly urgent — far more so than in most states. No doubt, time is of the essence here, and further protections for renters can’t come soon enough. 

Could local or state eviction moratoria help you stay at home? Tell Atlanta Civic Circle your story in the comments below or by emailing sean@atlantaciviccircle.org.

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