When the application portal for Georgia’s emergency rental assistance (ERA) program abruptly shuttered late last month, it rang alarm bells for local housing advocates, who worried the state was depriving people of help that could prevent evictions.
“Currently, we are no longer accepting new tenant applications,” the Georgia Rental Assistance website reads as of Oct. 28, adding that completed applications would still be processed on a first-come, first-served basis.
But the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), the agency running the federally funded pandemic relief program, told Atlanta Civic Circle that the program’s unexpected suspension was due to its efficiency in disbursing the nearly $1 billion allocated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Since March 2021, the DCA has disbursed or promised nearly 85% of its $989 million in federal ERA money to over 48,000 tenants and 8,000 landlords. It expects to use up all its federal rental assistance funds once it finishes processing pending applications, according to agency spokesperson Alyssa Howard.
Still, housing advocates say the program’s unexpected cessation blindsided tenants.
Atlanta Legal Aid Society attorney Lindsey Siegel told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “The DCA put some tenants in a pretty bad position.”
“If they knew they were running out of money,” she said, “they should have told them, so they could plan.”
Some tenants told the AJC that the DCA reversed its approval of their rental assistance applications when the program stopped taking applicants, but Howard said that’s not the case.
“DCA does not reverse payments unless the applicant was not entitled to the payment due to an error in the financial information provided by the applicant for an ACH transfer or some other inaccuracy in the information required to approve payments according to U.S. Treasury and/or [Georgia Rental Assistance] program guidelines,” she said, maintaining that DCA’s rental assistance program has worked as it’s supposed to.
But Georgia’s ERA program has been anything but smooth sailing since its inception.
Last February the Treasury Department found DCA had been sluggish in disbursing its ERA cash. To avoid being required to return the unspent federal funds to the Treasury Department, the agency released $80.6 million to five metro Atlanta counties with their own rental assistance programs, which had more effectively disbursed the money.
Howard said the DCA has lately received far fewer applications. “Applications peaked in June 2022 and have steadily decreased since then,” she said.
Howard added that the DCA recently announced a partnership with Georgia Power that will provide $44.5 million for utility assistance.