Three weeks after a state moratorium on evictions was put down as unlawful, funds for evictions are still trickling into renting and renting landlords in Coweta and the rest of Georgia.
The state received $ 552 million in federal funding for the Georgia Rental Assistance Program, which is designed to help tenants and landlords affected by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds were first made available in March and can also be used for electricity bills.
As of September 15, the program had paid out $ 26 million of this. Of 21,000 applications, just over 4,000 have been approved and funds awarded, according to Kaley Volkmann, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, which administers the GRA program.
Approximately 380 applications were submitted in Coweta. To date, 130 of these applications have been approved and more than $ 922,000 in rental and utility grants has been distributed to landlords and tenants in Coweta.
That has increased a bit in the last month. On August 18, 309 applications were filed and 111 approved, for a total of $ 720,014. By August 26th, 120 applications had been approved.
DCA recently expanded the program to allow those receiving government rental subsidies such as Section 8 or other vouchers to apply for allowance for the tenant’s rental share. The DCA program has also been expanded to include the entire state. The most populous counties in the state have received their own funding from the federal rental fund and manage their own programs.
For more information about the program or how to apply, please visit georgiarentalassistance.ga.gov. DCA has partnered with a number of organizations that have been trained in the application process. In Coweta, that’s the Salvation Army, 770-251-8181. Georgia Legal Services, 833-457-7529, and disAbility Link, 404-687-8890, are also DCA partners who can assist coworkers with their applications. Bridging the Gap, 770-683-9110, helped with applications as well.
No clear answers
The delay in disbursing funds is not limited to Georgia; The reasons it takes so long to get money out of a program launched in March are not clear.
DCA employs approximately 150 people to handle GRA applications, according to Tonya Cureton-Curry, DCA’s assistant housing officer. There have been some problems keeping people in these jobs, Cureton-Curry said in August, but there is an ongoing recruiting process to keep staffing levels up. A change in the person who handles the application shouldn’t have a material impact on the process, according to Curry.
The program requires documentation from both the tenant and the landlord.
Landlords must agree not to terminate a person because of the delinquency the funds are being used for, and both sides must provide banking and other information.
“The regulations are not particularly burdensome on either side,” said Cureton-Curry.
The state did not add any additional requirements to the requirements set by the federal government.
“What we’ve heard consistently from the Treasury Department is that they really want to find out,” she said of the funding.
Applicants can log into the GRA portal to check the status of their applications and see if they need to provide more information. People are encouraged to keep an eye on their applications until things are done. There is a chat function within the application portal, and applicants can also reach the GRA program by phone or email, she said.
When asked why it takes so long to get the funds to the people who need them, Cureton-Curry said that in most cases this is because either the tenant or the landlord is missing something or there is a discrepancy between gives the landlord and tenant.
“You’d be surprised at the things that don’t go together,” she said.
Cureton-Curry said that while every application is different, it shouldn’t take more than two or three weeks to finalize a decision and submit everything.
Four months waiting time
This is not necessarily the experience of some cowetans.
Bridging the Gap helped several Cowetans apply. Executive Director Kelli Yeager-Nelson spoke about two outstanding applications.
One was very early – the application was submitted on March 1st and everything went smoothly. Then nothing happened for months.
“The landlady was so frustrated by this process and made her life so difficult that she actually picked her up and moved to another state,” said Yeager-Nelson of the tenant.
The money finally arrived – in July. All this time the application was complete.
“Nothing was missing … everything went smoothly with the application,” said Yeager-Nelson.
In another case, it took three months to raise funds. Everything was complete, but everyone was frustrated with the slowness. The landlord tried to get help figuring out what was going on and accidentally created another application, which slowed things down further, she said.
Inefficient, slow, seemingly arbitrary
Coweta’s chief judge Jim Stripling expressed great frustration with the program.
“The program is inefficient, slow, seemingly arbitrary to use and seemingly regulatory,” Stripling said earlier this month. “In fact, there is little incentive for landlords to take part in the program.”
Shortly after the eviction moratorium was lifted, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Attorney General Merrick Garland and HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge sent a letter to governors, mayors, district boards and court administrators to “prevent unnecessary evictions.”
“Our bottom line is that no one should be evicted until they have a chance to apply for rent allowance, and no eviction should continue until that application has been processed,” the letter said. It stated that the Treasury Department “remains focused on working with state and local governments to bring emergency rental funds into the hands of tenants and landlords, including through recent guidelines that emphasize flexibility the scholarship holders have to simplify the application process “. and expedite the delivery of assistance. ”
Stripling expressed more frustration this week than seeing the updated numbers.
“It’s hard for me to understand just how difficult the Georgia DCA was in paying out the funds entrusted to them,” he said. “If it’s so frustrating that federal regulation and accountability have made it so frustrating, then we must all learn from their frustrations. If they are incapable, then Georgians need to know that their government is failing them and why they are failing.”
Striping said his court has not seen a surge in eviction requests known as “expropriations”. With the end of the moratorium, there were fears of a wave of evictions – especially in view of the painfully slow rollout of rental assistance funds.
“I still suspect it will come, but it might just tick instead of rising,” he said. “I really hope so.”
Senator Raphael Warnock’s staff members met with members of the Tornado Long Term Recovery Group this week and the issue of eviction came up.
Andrew Heaton, regional outreach director, said concerns about the slow distribution of funds were being heard across the state. In some cases it may be the landlord who is holding things up, “in many of these cases, it is not the landlord. The landlord wants the process to work.” He said they would speak to DCA to raise concerns about the slow nature of the program.