EXPLANATION: How GA’s rental assistance funds flow

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ATLANTA (AP) – A federal freeze on most evictions passed last year is set to expire on July 31, after the Biden administration extended the date by one month. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool allowing millions of tenants to stay in their homes. Many of them lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and were months behind on their rent.

The owners successfully challenged the order in court, arguing that they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access more than $ 45 billion in federal funds set aside to help pay rent and related expenses.

Tenant advocates say the cash flow has been slow and it takes longer to distribute it and reimburse landlords. Without an extension, they feared an upsurge in evictions and lawsuits aimed at evicting tenants behind on their rents.

As of June 7, about 3.2 million people in the United States said they were at risk of deportation within the next two months, according to the US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic every two weeks using online responses from a representative sample of American households.

Here is the situation in Georgia:

WHAT IS THE STATUS OF STATE DELETION MORATORIES?

Georgia is under the CDC moratorium. Judges around the state, with some exceptions, did not allow landlords to fire tenants for non-payment of rent. But they continued to deal with these deportation cases and issue removal orders that will come into effect once the moratorium expires. “The tenants are in a panic,” said Lindsey Siegel, an attorney with the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. “They are waiting for the rental aid. Many of them have already received eviction orders from the court and are just waiting for the commissioners to show up at their doors.

WHAT IS BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE TARGETING EVICTIONS?

The federal government has set aside more than $ 1.2 billion for the state of Georgia and local governments to help pay unpaid rents, utility payments, and other expenses. The state received $ 552 million in the first round of funding. Another $ 437 million has been set aside for Georgia this year. The city of Atlanta and many counties have secured segregated funds from the federal government for their residents.

As of June 22, less than $ 8 million of the $ 552 million sent to the state had been distributed, according to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. The money has helped over 2,000 tenants. The department has previous experience with rent assistance programs, but not on this scale, the department’s deputy housing commissioner Tonya Cureton Curry said in an email.

Elsewhere in the state, by the end of the first week of June, Metro Atlanta County of Cobb had distributed about $ 3.5 million of the $ 22.8 million in federal rent assistance funds that ‘he had received. The nonprofits that distribute the funds there said stringent federal eligibility requirements have made it difficult for a coordinated system to process applications, according to county officials. In neighboring DeKalb County, an even smaller share of the money has been spent so far. County officials blamed the delays on a cyber attack in March on a server handling requests for rental assistance.

The state’s money can be used to cover 12 months of rent and overdue utility bills and is paid to homeowners and utility providers, according to the Department of Community Affairs website. Siegel said if landlords choose not to participate, she would like the money to go directly to tenants.

HOW DO THE COURTS HANDLE EXVICTION HEARINGS?

Courts have attempted to connect tenants to rental assistance programs. But in some counties, there is not enough collaboration between programs and the court system and applications are not being reviewed quickly enough to prevent eviction orders, said Viraj Parmar, senior attorney at the Housing Court Assistance Center. in Atlanta.

SHOULD EVICTIONS CREATE AN INCREASE IN HOMELESSNESS?

It is difficult to say how much homelessness will increase in Georgia. The eviction attempts did not stop during the moratorium. Parmar said some tenants unaware of the moratorium or their right to challenge an eviction have given up their accommodation. Landlords also cited other non-rent violations to remove tenants. “The fact that people have already moved and there is a ton of rental aid, I hope all of that means we don’t see a tsunami,” he said. Still, he expects deportation requests to increase. Census data shows 184,489 state residents fear deportation within the next two months. Raising awareness of rent assistance programs is essential, said Protip Biswas, who leads homelessness efforts at United Way of Greater Atlanta. “I hope it won’t be as bad as it could be,” he said.

WHAT IS AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?

For tenants in the Atlanta area, an eviction could be particularly difficult. According to Realtor.com, the area has seen one of the largest rent increases in the country in the past year. In May, the median monthly rent in the Atlanta area had risen 13.2% over the past year, to reach $ 1,536, according to a report released on June 16 by Realtor.com. Median rents for a two-bedroom apartment were 14.6% higher at $ 1,680.

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