Eviction prevention program calls on metro Atlanta landlords to forgive back rentFrom top left: Moderator Bill Bolling, SOARR executive director John Berry, SOARR board chair David Moody. (Credit: Atlanta Regional Housing Forum)
By Sean Keenan
A new initiative aimed at helping people navigate what experts have called a “tsunami” of evictions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic will ask landlords in metro Atlanta to forgive tenants’ past-due rent in exchange for financial support.
That’s according to John Berry, the newly appointed executive director of Saving Our Atlanta Region’s Residents (SOARR). During Wednesday’s Atlanta Regional Housing Forum, Berry, who recently retired as chief executive of nonprofit St. Vincent de Paul Georgia, said he returned to philanthropic life as he saw the nation’s housing affordability crisis amplified by the pandemic’s economic side effects.
SOARR, which was launched in September and is now in what Berry calls the “execution phase,” was created to help protect tens of thousands of metro Atlantans from displacement.
Over the next few weeks, Berry said, SOARR will be wrangling financial support from companies and other organizations who want to help ensure people aren’t pushed out of their homes due to nonpayment of rent.
“We will be asking landlords to forgive a portion of back rent in exchange for SOARR funding to cover the rest,” he said. “We’re going to ask landlords to discount a portion of rent going forward for several months. And then, the tenants will pay what they can, and SOARR will come in and fill the gap.”
Berry said SOARR has already received a “pretty solid buy-in” from landlords willing to help out.
Additionally: “Any landlord who receives funding from SOARR must agree not to pursue eviction for those tenants for financial reasons for the time they are participating in our program,” he said.
That would provide crucial breathing room for people threatened by eviction — at least until “the next round of federal relief for housing,” Berry said.
It’s unclear when that government help might come, but SOARR board chair David Moody said this program should help people avoid the strain that comes with eviction proceedings.
“I want to try and make sure that, as a board chair, we do as much as we can as a community to help prevent people having unnecessary trauma and also becoming homeless,” Moody said. And if this initiative is successful, he added, it will help Atlanta “not only to weather the storm, but to come out strong on the other end.”
(Header image: Screenshot from the digital Atlanta Regional Housing Forum on Wednesday)