An Atlanta home from which people were removed. (Credit: Kelly Jordan)

By Sean Keenan

The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) earlier this month debuted a new data analytics tool that could help local leaders track and respond to the eviction crisis spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The planning and intergovernmental coordination agency’s new eviction tracker, which was announced during the Sept. 2 Atlanta Regional Housing Forum and developed in partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and Georgia Tech, monitors where and how often eviction filings are processed in Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Clayton and Gwinnett counties.

In theory, public officials, landlords, renters and others equipped with this geographical data, which is updated weekly, will be able to help blunt the impact of what experts have called a “tsunami” of evictions prompted by the coronavirus’s economic fallout, by way of emergency rental assistance, further eviction moratoriums or other means.

So says Erik Woodworth, ARC’s research and data visualization coordinator.

Today, the tracker shows the number of eviction filings in each Census tract. Soon, though, Woodworth told SaportaReport, the project could include “counts of answers, dismissals, judgments and other associated case events.”

The readily available data also seems to have spotlighted the effects of March’s statewide judicial emergency declaration, which put a halt on many landlord-tenant court cases, as well as eviction moratoriums and the $600 weekly unemployment insurance boost at the end of March, Woodworth pointed out in an email.

“Additionally, eviction filings rose significantly across the region at the end of August and [the] first week of September after the expiration of the federal protection and assistance,” he added.

Woodworth told SaportaReport the tracker has already revealed some interesting items. Here are a few things he said that have jumped out at him:

  • While the CDC-issued ban on evictions goes a long way to protect renters from being ejected from their homes for the remainder of the year, it does not address the accrued missed rent payments, setting up the conditions for an even bigger wave of evictions at the beginning of next year.
  • The lapse in the federal eviction moratorium and $600 unemployment add-on in August was evidenced by a 96-percent higher number of filings across the five-county region for the first week of September compared to the same week in 2019.
  • The largest year-to-year differences for the first week in September were in Fulton (+140 percent) and Clayton (+103 percent) counties.
  • Hotspots in August and the beginning of September include neighborhoods in College Park, Clarkston/Stone Mountain, Norcross, Riverdale and southwest of Buckhead along Buford Highway.
  • While eviction filings are not the same as evictions themselves, they do portend potential displacement and housing instability for those against which the filings are initiated.
  • While filings have been low during the lockdown (only spiking with the lapse of the eviction moratorium and additional unemployment insurance assistance), the Eviction Tracker tool is in place to track filings (and soon other associated court actions like answers, dismissals, and judgments) for when the numbers begin to rise — as they surely will when appropriate protections lapse or are insufficient.

Woodworth said ARC is also working with stakeholders across the region “to help inform their planning and actions concerning housing stability and stemming the potential widespread displacement of households due to evictions.”

“This work includes providing data and analyses useful in determining the potential amount and location of rental assistance need for those facing eviction as well as where to target preemptive interventions in order to avoid the courts altogether,” he continued. “This data and analysis work is currently being done on an ad-hoc basis to support various initiatives in which our organizations are involved.”

One of those initiatives is the new Save Our Atlanta Residents (SOAR) project, which is spearheaded by leaders from the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta, United Way of Greater Atlanta and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and strives to keep tens of thousands of metro Atlantans threatened with displacement housed amid the public health crisis.

And for those at immediate risk of being evicted, Woodworth recommends renters take advantage of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new moratorium — “if they meet the requirements” — by filing a declaration of eligibility with their landlord.

“For those in the City of Atlanta,” he added, “they can also reach out via 211 to apply for rental assistance being provided through the city with CARES Act funds.”

(Header image, via Kelly Jordan: A household’s belongings are littered in the front yard after a family was evicted.)

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