The Atlanta City Council on Monday voted to inject another $12 million of federal money into its emergency rental assistance (ERA) account, paving the way for the city to accept more applicants for vital government funds as the pandemic threatens the financial and housing stability of tens of thousands in the metro area.
The newly passed ordinance authorizes the city’s chief financial officer to “create all necessary funds and project numbers to support the 2021 ERA Program 2 Grant,” according to the legislation, which was sponsored by Councilwoman Andrea Boone.
The move adds much-needed cash to a program that’s currently working on distributing the initial $15.2 million allocated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
The legislation is complemented by another ordinance Boone sponsored, which amends an agreement with United Way of Greater Atlanta, the organization that’s been managing the city’s ERA program, “to facilitate the city’s COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program to extend the term of the agreement through Jan. 31, 2022,” among other actions.
These updates could also precede the relaxation of the program’s documentation requirements, which demand renters and landlords seeking aid provide paperwork that proves how the public health crisis has impacted their finances and become a detriment to their housing security.
In August, the Treasury Department eased such regulations, which housing experts and legal professionals have told Atlanta Civic Circle have been preventing people in need from accessing crucial public money.
“United Way of Greater Atlanta will be working closely with the City of Atlanta to administer a new round of funding using the revised federal guidelines by mid-to-late October,” United Way spokesman Chad Parker told Atlanta Civic Circle last week. “We will be ensuring that these new federal guidelines are implemented by all our nonprofit partners and administered with compassion and compliance.”
News of the municipal program’s expansion comes on the heels of Fulton County officials declaring they are not considering enacting a temporary ban on evictions that experts have said could buy time for jurisdictions to disseminate ERA funds.
Though Fulton County — which has its own ERA program separate from the city’s — and Atlanta have been more efficient than many governments across the state when it comes to disbursing this money, Georgia has been notoriously sluggish about spending this cash, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
State officials have not responded to Atlanta Civic Circle’s repeated requests for comment on the supposed need for eviction moratoria, even after the U.S. Supreme Court squashed a Biden administration halt on such displacement efforts.
Attorneys with the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, Atlanta Legal Aid Society and Georgia Legal Services Program (GLSP) have told Atlanta Civic Circle that, if state and local officials won’t effect their own eviction bans, the bureaucratic red tape separating tenants and landlords from assistance must be cut.
Susan Reif, a GLSP housing attorney and the head of the organization’s eviction prevention charge, told Atlanta Civic Circle earlier this month that GLSP is “in favor of any change that would make it easier to get access to the ERA money. I understand we have to abide by [U.S. Treasury Department] rules, but we have to look closely at what we require of people.”
AVLF’s Michael Lucas and Atlanta Legal Aid’s Steve Gottlieb echoed Reif’s concerns in recent interviews.
In August, Elora Raymond, an associate professor of city and regional planning at Georgia Tech, told Atlanta Civic Circle that cumbersome documentation requirements were putting people’s livelihoods in jeopardy.
“Local jurisdictions should offer 100 percent of rent, allow self-certification by tenants, as recommended by Treasury, instead of requiring paperwork tenants may not have [and] give assistance money to tenants if landlords turn it down so that tenants can pay down their rent debt and secure new housing,” she said at the time.
Streamlining the process of linking tenants and landlords with ERA assistance, experts have said, would dampen some of the impact the pandemic-spurred eviction crisis could have on metro Atlantans and others.
Even DeKalb County, which has its own eviction moratorium — the only of its kind in the state — has struggled with bureaucratic roadblocks that slow the process of distributing federal funds, leading housing leaders to call on metro Atlanta officials to adopt practices like those in Santa Fe.
The New Mexico city government launched a program that puts federal money directly into the pockets of renters in need, allowing them to do what they think is necessary to protect them from displacement.
Are you or someone you know grappling with housing insecurity in the wake of the pandemic? Tell Atlanta Civic Circle about it by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or commenting below.
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