Although Georgia has been slower to distribute federal rental assistance funds than most of the country, officials with the state’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) say they won’t forfeit any of the money back to the U.S. Treasury Department. 

Treasury officials are at liberty to reclaim and reallocate Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program cash from governments that had spent less than 30 percent of that money by Sept. 30. As of the end of August, the DCA had disbursed just 7 percent of the more than $550 million the feds had granted the agency during the ERA program’s first round. 

Some states are worried they could soon have to return their emergency rental aid, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. DCA spokesman Adrion Bell, however, told Atlanta Civic Circle, “The Department of Community Affairs does not anticipate, nor have given any money back to the U.S. Treasury.”

Treasury Department representatives did not immediately respond to Atlanta Civic Circle’s inquiries regarding whether the DCA or any other ERA grantees in Georgia could be asked to give back money. Bell and other DCA officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment about why Georgia has lagged so far behind other states in disbursing housing assistance money.

By September, Georgia had spent just 15 percent of the $710 million provided by the Treasury Department, which included DCA’s $552 million and about $158 million allocated to other public agencies. North Carolina distributed 54 percent of its $703 million during the same timeframe.

The total portion of the ERA money Georgia has spent is pulled up by the City of Atlanta (which spent 68 percent of its first $15 million batch of funding by September) and Fulton County (which disbursed all of its $18 million). The DCA, with the largest ERA purse in the state, drags those numbers down, having spent just $13.1 million by the end of August.

During a rally held outside DCA’s Druid Hills office earlier this month, activists demanded the agency expedite the application and distribution processes of its ERA program, according to The Atlanta Voice. Protesters also complained of a faulty online application portal.

Housing experts and legal professionals have told Atlanta Civic Circle that burdensome documentation requirements have also prevented people from accessing these funds.

In August, the Treasury Department, “in order to rapidly provide assistance,” encouraged governments across the country to relax those paperwork restrictions, allowing for applicants to provide information indicating their pandemic-related income hardships without producing a mountain of documents. 

“If an applicant is unable to provide required documents, self-attestation documents for income, rent and financial hardship can be submitted,” Bell, of the DCA, told The Atlanta Voice in a statement. “There is an anticipated 30-day application turnaround for completed submissions.”

Bell did not respond to Atlanta Civic Circle’s question regarding whether the DCA had instructed its ERA distribution partners to ease their documentation requirements, too. 

The DCA’s sluggish processing of its first tranche of ERA money — the agency received another $437 million from the feds, which it is far from dipping into — exacerbates an already dire housing crisis, which was itself exacerbated by the abrupt ending of the federal eviction moratorium

Help could be on the horizon, though. In September, Congresswoman Cori Bush introduced the Emergency Rental Assistance Program Improvement Act, which would “help make these funds more accessible by allowing individuals and families to apply for assistance at places that are central to their communities — schools, libraries, the post office, among others,” according to the legislation.

It’s yet unclear when that bill could go to a vote. 

Renters struggling to access ERA money — from the DCA or any other jurisdiction — are encouraged to contact Atlanta Civic Circle by emailing sean@atlantaciviccircle.org

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