Moratorium comes to an end as assistance programs fail to disburse majority of funds
As the moratorium on evictions came to an end yesterday, President Joe Biden and the White House spent the week urging counties to find ways to stop evictions from occurring. His pleas are of little comfort to those suffering from housing insecurities and the threat of eviction in Cobb County. Now that the protections have ended, the reality of families with children being placed on the streets is all too real for many in Cobb. In his message to local governments, Biden said find a way to help, but government gears are stuck in neutral as they hold on to funds meant for those in need who are now suffering from an uncertain future.
A report by the AJC showed that only 6% of the more than $710 million in federal money for rental assistance has been distributed in Georgia. In Cobb, the numbers are dismal. Records show that $22.5 million of federal funds were allocated to Cobb County, but only $7.9 million has reached the people who need it the most. This leaves almost $15 million sitting in the bank accounts of those who have been tasked with handing out the funds.
In the AJC analysis of the five core metro Atlanta counties, Fulton County leads the pack in giving out rental assistance, with 48% of its funds distributed so far. Cobb has had tenant advocates and those evicted or on the brink of eviction appear before it at each meeting to no avail. At a recent meeting, their pleas for help irked Cobb Chair Lisa Cupid, who accused the group of being ungrateful. Many saw this as an attack against those begging for help, while others say that was Cupid being Cupid, in her tone deaf approach to problems in Cobb. As many who have watched Cobb government through the years can attest, housing is not a new issue. It is time for Cobb leadership to stop passing the buck and the responsibility to others.
In addition, getting angry, shouting down those who point out the obvious failings of the county, or changing the rules of engagement relative to the Public Comment process to shut down speakers is not leadership. It reflects a lack thereof. Cupid recently directed the communications office to come up with a new policy for public speakers. Cupid’s management of government and her attitude towards the community are described as worst than anything under former Chair Tim Lee. Cupid’s actions are viewed as a blatant attempt to shut down folks who come to the meetings to talk out against evictions or any other subject the Chair does not want to be held accountable for. Some say even Lee never resorted to such heavy handed tactics with the public – first Cupid threatens citizens with the Police at community meetings, now she is changing up the process by which citizens can speak to government, or her, at commission meetings.
Many ask what can be done to get Cobb County to act more expeditiously to ensure that the funds are disbursed by the entities they have selected for distribution in a more efficiently and effective manor. The federal government normally applies a timeframe on funds they disburse and say recipients must spend the funds within a certain time period or return the money back to the government. Cobb and the five entities have until September 30 to spend 65% of the funds it received or return the unused money. With so many in need, this would be a travesty and a waste.
Since the pandemic started in 2020, Cobb renters have found themselves in danger and on the brink of being kicked out of their apartments. Cupid entrusted five nonprofits to distribute the county’s federal dollars, as reflected in the above chart. Cobb HomeSavers has handed out the most funds, $2.52 million; while Must Ministries has only handed out $732 thousand of the $4.8 million it received. Some are pointing to failures in this effort as they point to the large amount of funds that have not been used for the purposes they were intended. They suggests that these entities were not equipped going into this process to handle this large task, and lay the blame at Cupid’s feet. Cobb watchers say these groups have been successful in serving other needs within the community, but they have shown that they are incapable of managing a process of this scale for thousands with housing insecurities. They say Cupid should wise up and hire a housing Czar to drive this process or risk losing these funds for good in 60 days. Having to return these federal dollars would represent yet another ‘black eye’ for Cupid and her management of Cobb government.
Some communities in the state are doing a better job than Cobb in coordinating funds to stave off such evictions. They saw the benefits of the ban on evictions, instituted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as a way to prevent homelessness and overcrowded housing conditions that could encourage the spread of the coronavirus. Combined with the power of the moratorium, the objective of the federal dollars given to Cobb and others was to offer rental assistance while mediating between landlords and tenants. Some are pointing to failures in this effort as they point to the large amount of funds that have not been used for the purposes they were intended for. With the highly contagious delta variant causing a new surge in COVID-19 cases, the moratorium, which was extended four times, sunsets, which is cause for even greater concerns on the part of tenants and the federal government.
Princeton University’s Eviction Lab reports that women and racial minorities have been disproportionately impacted economically by the pandemic, making them more likely to face legal proceedings for nonpayment of rent, which is reflected in Cobb. In some states, eviction hearings can include mediations that can provide a go-between for landlords and tenants, but it is not common in Georgia to have a court approved mediation. Instead, Judges often direct tenants and landlords that come before them to go into the hallways to work out an agreement. Many sign move-out agreements without knowing what they are signing. Eviction filings and these agreements cause ongoing harm as they remain on tenants’ records, hurting their chances at securing housing in the future.
Princeton University’s Eviction Lab reports that women and racial minorities have been disproportionately impacted economically by the pandemic, making them more likely to face legal proceedings for nonpayment of rent, which is reflected in the faces of the people asking for help in Cobb. Cobb County has appointed mediators, rental assistance and sometimes legal aid on site at the courthouse, but complaints remain as many say Cobb officials are not doing enough. During many eviction hearings, landlords and tenants are told to go into the hallway to work out an agreement. Many tenants end up signing move-out agreements without understanding that such eviction filings remain on their records, which hurts their chances of securing any housing going forward. In addition, local experts and advocates say tenants can be evicted much more quickly in Georgia than in other states. Advocates in Cobb point to this as they demand for the release of the funds and the implementation of eviction diversion methods.
As the pandemic rages on, these advocates have given Cobb County an earful on this issue as they point to methods to increase housing stability, including improvements to minimum wages. They insist that this is needed by low wage earners to improve housing efforts. They also point to eviction diversion programs in other parts of the country that are highly successful because of collaborative efforts by all parties.
Cobb Chief Magistrate Judge Brendan Murphy, who has been leading on this issue, recently received additional funds for legal aid to help handle eviction cases through 2024. He points to a ‘safety net of the safety net,’ comprised of the help from his office and the moratorium which allowed eligible tenants up to 12 months of rental assistance if they can show proof of a COVID-19-related hardship. Now that the moratorium has ended, the safety net may be impacted.
According to the AJC, about 20% of Georgia renters are behind on rent payments. A recent survey by the Census Bureau is tracking roughly the same number who are reporting that they do not think they will be able to pay next month’s rent.