By Sean Keenan
At the end of August, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms extended an executive order barring many residential evictions until at least Halloween. It was a helpful move, but far more help is needed to stem what’s almost certain to be mass displacement.
The order called on “governmental and quasi-governmental agencies” — Atlanta Housing, Atlanta Beltline, Inc., the Fulton County/City of Atlanta Land Bank Authority, Invest Atlanta, Partners for Home and the city’s Department of Grants and Community Development — to halt all eviction proceedings as the city grapples with an economy ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before that, the Magistrate Court of Fulton County announced it would delay all in-person hearings for landlord-tenant cases until at least November, affording renters at risk of eviction some breathing room to figure out their finances and attempt to avoid displacement.
And just days after Bottoms lengthened the lifespan of the moratorium, President Donald Trump issued an order of his own, suspending the possibility of eviction for millions of renters adversely impacted by the public health crisis until the end of the year — and, ahem, after the presidential election — according to The New York Times.
While these initiatives strive to keep people in their homes while they weather the storm of the novel coronavirus, the hard truth is that such efforts merely delay the inevitable, an exacerbated housing crisis.
As another New York Times report reminds us, “Congress has yet to adopt a new aid package that includes broad rent relief.” Nor has it ushered through any other substantial assistance programs of late, and expanded unemployment benefits expired weeks ago.
Trump’s order — plus those of Bottoms, Fulton County and a laundry list of other public officials — might keep people housed for a few more months, but most back rent isn’t going anywhere, and people in debt to their landlords could be in serious trouble when it comes time to pay up.
And, as Georgia State University urban studies professor Dan Immergluck pointed out on Twitter, it doesn’t help that Georgia doesn’t provide much in the way of COVID-19-related rental assistance programs. Most states do.
The Georgia Department of Community Affairs does offer Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) and Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act-funded assistance to help people making 50 percent or below the area median income from becoming homeless.
But finding a way to prevent countless Georgians from becoming homeless as courts begin again to process the eviction filings that have been stacking up for weeks hinges on a major expansion of rental assistance and relief programs.
This is why projects like the new Save Our Atlanta Residents (SOAR) program are so vital to combating the housing crisis, which has long gripped Atlanta and other major cities but is exacerbated by the public health crisis.
But the onus can’t just be on well-to-do community organizations; there must be more government help to keep people at home and, ideally, contributing to the economy. After all, when people have to make the tough choice of whether to pay rent or buy groceries, everyone loses.
Thankfully, the City of Atlanta, thanks to a partnership with United Way of Greater Atlanta, recently launched a multi-million-dollar rental assistance program that’s expected to protect upwards of 6,700 city residents from displacement.
Sadly, though, that program is only a drop in the bucket for Georgia, which faces an eviction crisis that some experts suggest could cost upwards of $91 million to fight in court. What Atlantans and Georgians need right now is more rental assistance help from the state and federal governments.
Kicking the can down the road with eviction moratoriums will only allow this already staggering problem to balloon into a far more dire crisis in the not-too-distant future.
(Header image, via David Pendered: The Jefferson Park neighborhood near Atlanta’s airport once had the highest eviction rate in Fulton County.)
The media, reporters and the public doesn’t realize that 80% of rentals are owned and self operated by Mom-and-Pop’s like me and my wife. We are hurting as well!!! All of our tenants are good folks that we’ve gotten to know over the years and have deep empathy for their income loss, sicknesses etc! We do care! But its a Gov “takings” forcing us to go broke housing folks for free, yet we are still obligated by state landlord law to fix problems and pay our mortgages. Some mistakingly think forbearance is a good thing, it is NOT. Huge problems down the road for those who take forbearance like not being able to get another loan for a-l-o-n-g time which cuts off an investors ability to buy more rentals. This free rent program is bad on so many fronts!
I realize the squeeze all parties are in, we are mom and pop and we know personally all of our tenants. We do care! But we need to be able to run our business to stay afloat. We live off the net from our rentals. Rent pays for our food, gas, insurance, mortgages. The small time housing providors are NOT social agencies solving the worlds problems from our personal food budget! Its shocking to me that the media has been very one sided in the story telling here. We are hurting, being hurt and are good folks too. We just need to be able to run our business of providing housing as a small time business of providing for our livelihood and retirement income.
Its also sad to see the short sightedness in the Gov agencies that put upon us small time business owners. Why should anyone continue in a business that the Gov, the public, the media vila-fies AND all are making it unprofitable to stay in this business. I hear from EVERYY ONE OF MY peers, they will sell their rentals as soon as they can get the non-paying tenants out. I hear of en-mass interests to sell our houses since we are being killed by these Gov Takings of our ability to run a business. Who is being helped who is being hurt by dramatic reduction in rental inventory? Us housing providers will make a killing selling into the highest market in history. We’ll just move our rental equity into the stock market and let the Gov agencies duke it out as to who can be the most punitive on us struggling small time housing providers.
My wife was complaining this morning re-reading the CDC’s eviction moratorium till Dec 31 that we need to get out-a-this-business!! We have some great tenants that I’m very very sorry,,, are running a risk of getting their dreaded phone call: I’m sorry Fred, we have sold that house you’ll need to move in 60 days….
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