On October 1, a small group of activists held a rally outside of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) office in Druid Hills over the slow rollout of Emergency Rental Assistance funds.
Several of the attendees of the protest work with the Assist and Resist Campaign and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
Community activist Estevan Hernandez led the protest, intending to deliver a letter with their outlined requests. The letter asked that the DCA release all of the funds in their possession, the online application be fixed, quickly process pending applications, and that “burdensome” requirements on the application be eliminated.
The questions that the group would like to be gone include landlord participation, lease verification and income verification.
Hernandez claimed that the group met outside the DCA office to “expose a scandal”.
“The Department of Community Affairs has not given out the money that was allocated, the nearly $1 billion allocated by the federal government to give to renters,” Hernandez said. “In the time that they’ve had this nearly $1 billion, they have given out about 2-3%.”
In a statement provided to The Atlanta Voice by Adrion Bell, the director of marketing and communications, The U.S. Treasury allocated Georgia with two funds- Emergency Rental Assistance 1 and Emergency Rental Assistance 2. ERA 1 allocated $552 million and ERA2 allocated $437 million.
Out of the combined $989 million the state has received from the federal government, the DCA has expended $33 million, or about 3.34%. With that money, the DCA has given over 4,600 landlords and tenants aid.
The DCA’s statement explained that all verifications within the application are required by U.S. Treasury.
“If an applicant is unable to provide required documents, self-attestation documents for income, rent, and financial hardship can be submitted,” the DCA stated. “There is an anticipated 30-day application turnaround for completed submissions.”
According to the DCA’s website, the federal funds are to be used to pay off past due rent and utility payments. DCA Deputy Commissioner for Housing, Tonya Curry, said in a May 10 video that their goal is “to get these funds out across the state within the next six to seven months”.
The group of participants chose to protest last Friday morning due to the slow trickle of federal funds to those in need of rental assistance and the inability to reach the DCA through phone calls and emails.
Protester Zak Norton’s main concern was helping the elderly, who are the people who need rent and utility assistance the most in his experience.
He also voiced frustration over issues with the DCA’s online application for rental aid.
“Josh and I went to go see a lady who was behind on her rent, over $3,500 behind rent and fees…” Norton said. “This lady was going to get kicked out last Thursday, the 29. We filled out the application on Monday. We couldn’t submit it… this has happened over and over again.”
Dorothy “Dot” White is one of the people being impacted on the wait to receive money from the DCA. She currently has an application that is being “held up”.
In 2015, White was homeless and through charitable projects, was able to find stable housing and support herself. When the pandemic hit, it provided a new set of issues for her.
“[COVID-19] made it hard for a lot of us, a lot of handicapped people,” White said. “Busses being stopped, me being car-less and not being able to walk up hills, [made me] have to rely on Uber. That took a lot of my money from my pocket.”
White wishes for the federal aid to be handed out in a more timely manner to help residents like herself and her 70-year-old mother who are having a hard time making ends meet.
“I don’t want to be homeless again,” White said. “I sacrificed a whole lot to get to where I am.”
“I like my life,” she continued. “ I would love for it to be better, but I don’t want it to be worse.”
In a Census Bureau report from September 1-13, 34.1% of adults are in households not current on rent where either eviction or foreclosure is “very likely” or “somewhat likely”, compared to the national average of 32.4%.
On August 25, the U.S. Treasury released seven policies to help states expedite the doling out of federal funds. They also announced that if the states can’t deliver aid promptly, the money allocated can be redispersed.
“Beginning September 30, 2021, the ERA 1 statute requires Treasury to recapture excess funds that have not been obligated by a state or other grantee and reallocate those resources to high-performing jurisdictions that have obligated at least 65% of their original allocation,” stated the Treasury.