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By Sean Keenan

City officials could cut the $22 million COVID-19 housing assistance program in half, Atlanta’s chief operating officer Jon Keen announced on Tuesday. 

The reason: The money, which came from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, must be spent by the end of the year, and the city is on track to only spend about $11 million to help keep people housed. 

The program initially allowed eligible renters to claim up to $3,000 to help with rent, utility bills and security deposits. Now that the fund could be reduced, though, people could be eligible for up to $5,000 in assistance — including mortgage help — city leaders announced on Monday. 

Milton Little, CEO of United Way of Greater Atlanta, the organization charged with administering the emergency housing funds, said the trouble spending the whole $22 million boiled down to three factors: time constraints, eligibility restrictions and access to technology. 

“If we had an additional three or four months, I have no doubt that the entire amount would be expended,” he said during the Atlanta City Council’s Community Development and Human Services (CD/HS) Committee meeting Tuesday. 

He added that the city received a number of applications for assistance from people living outside of Atlanta, as well as people who were unable to prove their economic hardships were a result of the pandemic. And then there were those who lacked access to the technology needed to apply or upload the requisite documents. 

Little said the city’s inability to distribute all $22 million for housing assistance didn’t stem from a lack of outreach; officials, he said, posted notices online and around the city, worked with local news media to spread the word and even visited renters to educate them about their options, among other efforts.

The $11 million that could be lopped off the fund, though, shouldn’t go to waste, Keen said. It will instead be reallocated, largely to payroll expenses related to public safety and public health. 

CD/HS chair Councilman Matt Wesmoreland said Tuesday, “I regret that we weren’t able to get more of this money out the door,” but city officials are encouraging the federal government to provide an extension for the disbursal of the funds. 

Legislation to rework the plans for the CARES money passed the CD/HS committee Tuesday and is expected to be discussed by the council’s Finance and Executive Committee later today.

(Header image, via Kelly Jordan: Atlanta City Hall)

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