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Philanthropy Thought Leadership

Diverse array of organizations partner and take action to prevent eviction

By Alyssa Cobbs, program officer, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

I’ve called Atlanta home for most of my life. As I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, my mother, brother and I moved from apartment to apartment for a number of years. With each move, my mom always focused on making sure we stayed in the same school district. Thirty years ago, that meant we could afford to live in zip code 30306 and attend Morningside Elementary School. I just did a search and the least expensive apartment I found in 30306 was a studio for $1,200. Today, we would not be able to live in a neighborhood to attend this school, even if we moved often. Average rental prices in Atlanta were 17% higher in August 2021 than they were in August 2020 – twice the national average increase. This is one part of my story and how affordable housing, or a lack of it, had an impact on my family – and we never experienced an eviction like the one-fifth of 800,000 renters potentially at-risk of eviction in light of COVID-19 and its multitude of impacts in our region.

In a September 16 blog post, we shared some statistics about households at risk for eviction and the long-lasting impacts of evictions, including children having to change schools, barriers to future housing, and increases in stress and depression. Since September 2021, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta has joined with the Cobb Community Foundation, the Community Foundation for Northeast Georgia, a coalition of six family foundations (Betty and Davis Fitzgerald Foundation; Cousins Family Foundation; The Imlay FoundationSartain Lanier Family FoundationThe Wilbur and Hilda Glenn Family FoundationTull Charitable Foundation), nonprofit partners and county leadership to respond to this issue. Together, we are identifying ways to support organizations working with families across the region to prevent evictions; advocating for improved processes to distribute federal emergency rental assistance funding to tenants and landlords to keep people in their homes; and sharing learnings and increasing partnerships all with a goal of addressing housing stability in the region.

This work has been critical as our state and local governments have varied in their success in administering the first wave of Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) funding under the American Rescue Plan Act. The state program has provided just 10% of its available funding to families while some local offices have utilized 100% of their funds. In the most recent update from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), the agency did not meet the goal set by the U.S. Treasury to expend 30% of federal ERA funding by November 2021. To address this, DCA submitted a Program Improvement Plan and voluntarily proposed reallocating $74M of their unspent funds to local counties with more success disbursing funds to families ($25M to Fulton, $25M to DeKalb, $15M to Henry and $9M to Clayton) – this proposal was approved by the U.S. Department of Treasury on January 7.  Meanwhile, evictions are rising in the region and the potential of this situation continuing to worsen – at a meeting of HouseATL’s policy committee it was shared that while 37,696 households had received ERA funding by the end of October 2021, more than twice that number of evictions had been filed in the five core metro Atlanta counties in 2021 (76,544 as of Nov 24, 2021). Two recent articles highlight the increase in eviction filings and an effort by the City of Atlanta to protect renters. Success at the local level has occurred both with counties that administer their own programs, and those who partner with nonprofits to distribute rental assistance. Nonprofit partners have identified that the administrative costs to administer Emergency Rental Assistance are often greater than what is available.

In the last three months, through these collective efforts, over $1.5M in philanthropic funding has been committed to nonprofits working to:

  • Ensure public Emergency Rental Assistance funds are available and accessible by supporting the capacity of nonprofit partners:
    • For example, Africa’s Children’s Fund in Clayton County is working with the Chief Magistrate Court to identify and serve tenants with pending evictions and the Martin Luther King Sr Community Resources Collaborative is partnering with United Way of Greater Atlanta in Fulton County and the City of Atlanta to ensure families receive financial support 10-15 days from the initial application. Both of these organizations have put systems in place to ensure families in the region are able to access this government funding and are administering rent assistance amounts five times their prior annual budgets, increasing the need for staff, technology and other operation costs
  • Provide rental assistance for those that do not qualify for government funding
    • The Latin American AssociationLatino Community Fund and Ser Familia are partnering to ensure families of immigrants have access to resources and are not excluded from programs they are eligible for
    • Mercy Housing Southeast is supporting families facing financial hardship whether due to COVID-19 or not (the current influx of ERA funding requires that family financial hardship be related to COVID)
  • Advocate to increase access to available government funding and keep families housed

These examples are just six of the 26 organizations supported by community foundations and family foundation partners in the region. While there are government funds available for eviction prevention, there is still opportunity to support the capacity of organizations partnering to administer these funds, organizations providing direct rental assistance for families not eligible for government funding and organizations advocating for affordable housing. Our work and grant support has been done while working with local jurisdictions to ensure that we are responsive to how our dollars complement, not supplant, public dollars and how they are helping to unlock the full value of public dollars by increasing capacity and flexibility at nonprofits to best respond to people as they seek support to say housed.

You may now be wondering why this post about evictions started with a personal story that didn’t include an eviction. Eviction prevention is one piece of a broader need in our region for affordable housing, which has been a growing issue in the region for decades. As part of TogetherATL, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta is committed to housing and neighborhoods through both a place-based and systems approach. We will build on our partnerships with HouseATL, the Atlanta Affordable Housing Fund, Enterprise Community Partners and others to address the systemic barriers to affordable housing in our region. Our hope is that you will partner with us in both the immediate need to prevent evictions and long-term systems change to address housing affordability and stability in our region.

 

This is sponsored content.

1 Comment

  1. Richard Kelly James January 31, 2022 2:25 pm

    My company manages 3,000 affordable apartments in Atlanta. We have been working with residents facing hardship on a case-by-case basis since the beginning of the pandemic. There is no nice way to say it: The rent relief distribution process in Georgia is an unmitigated disaster. We have had far better success working with non-profit agencies and churches to help our residents.

    As it stands, the rent relief application process is so complicated that many of those residents who wish to apply are unable to do so. Approximately half of the applications submitted are then denied. There is no communication from DCA or the municipalities. The funds take months and months and months when they do actually arrive. There is no way for landlords to apply on behalf of uncooperative residents who refuse to complete the application.

    Our highest balance resident owes more than $20K and refuses to apply for rent relief. We don’t even have a magistrate hearing date yet. I know of other operators in Atlanta with residents who have accumulated balances higher than $30K. Some of these same non-paying residents also can’t or won’t follow community rules. Lease violations carry very little weight when residents know their landlords are powerless to evict.

    The single most effective step that could be taken to speed up the distribution of funds (thus preventing evictions) would be to replace the entire application process with a simple landlord attestation form. Landlords will continue to work with residents legitimately facing hardship, but it is far past time for judges and marshals to enforce the law against those renters who refuse to cooperate with their landlords to apply for rent relief or refuse to follow community rules. *Some* residents must be evicted.Report

    Reply

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