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Thousands of Georgians still waiting on rental assistance

Only 13 percent of state funds have been distributed to Georgians in need.
Updated: Jan. 18, 2022 at 6:28 PM EST
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ATLANTA (CBS46) — Thousands of Georgians are waiting for a state program to distribute $552 million in emergency rental assistance.

It’s designed to provide rental and utility assistance to low-income households in danger of eviction.

But as CBS46 investigates uncovered, only 13 percent of those funds or $70 million has been distributed to Georgians in need.

“At that time, I wasn’t getting a lot of work,” said Kamaria Jackson of Atlanta. Their stories are similar.

“I personally lost my job during the pandemic,” said Kristi Cook of Savannah.

Out of work, they fell behind on rent. “It’s just been rocky ever since,” said Deondre Earsery of Atlanta.

Kamaria Jackson, Deondre Earsery, Kristi Cook
Kamaria Jackson, Deondre Earsery, Kristi Cook(CBS46)

That’s why Deondre Earsery, Kristi Cook and Kamaria Jackson were excited when they found out about the state’s rental assistance program through Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA).

“I applied September 8th,” said Cook.

“It was around September 14th when I applied,” said Earsery.

“Knowing that this help was available, of course I wanted to apply for it, so I could receive that assistance for myself and my son,” said Jackson.

But four months later, none of them had received assistance. After CBS46 Investigates got involved, Earsery and Cook tell us their applications were approved. They’ve not yet received the funds.

Our CBS46 investigation also revealed that 44,000 tenants in Georgia had applied for state assistance through DCA. Roughly 10,000 of them had received assistance.

When CBS46 Investigates asked how many applications had been rejected and how many were still under review, a DCA spokesperson said, “Our team is processing applications and dispersing payments on a daily basis.” They went on to say that they are dispersing financial assistance “within all federal guidelines.”

DCA’s social media team continues making posts to Instagram that say things like: ‘Do you need help paying for rent and utilities?’ and ‘begin your application today!’

“The fact that they have this social media team making posts every day, it’s like you guys are making posts but no one’s reaching out to the clients to say hey, you’ve been approved or no, you’ve been denied,” Jackson said. “It’s frustrating.”

“What is your biggest fear?” CBS46 investigative reporter, Rachel Polansky, asked Earsery. “Being evicted,” Earsery said.

While we were at his apartment, Earsery called DCA to get a status on his application. We listened to an operator tell him she could not process applications or even access his account.

“Oh my, wow,” Earsery said to the operator. She also said if she were him, she’d look for assistance elsewhere. “Oh wow and you’re being paid to tell me this,” Earsery responded to the operator.

When CBS46 Investigates asked DCA about the backlog of applications, a DCA spokesperson said,

“Clearly the assistance still isn’t getting out where it’s needed,” said Michael Lucas, deputy director of Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation (AVLF).

Michael Lucas with Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation says DCA should be acting with more urgency.

“I believe there are lots of applicants who are eligible, but really struggle to prove it and provide that paperwork,” Lucas added. “There is more they [DCA] can do in terms of staffing and application assistance, and phone bank assistance to help folks.”

Lucas also tells us that DCA recently submitted an improvement plan.

Meanwhile, evictions in metro Atlanta are rising. In the four months since the moratorium ended, eviction filings have averaged 9,000 per month, according to data from the Atlanta Regional Commission.

In September, there were 10,003 reported eviction filings. In October, there were 10,318 reported eviction filings. In November, there were 9,281 reported eviction filings. And in December, there were 9,382 reported eviction filings.

“In the data, we’re not seeing the tsunami or avalanche [of evictions] we feared but that’s because courts are still moving slower due to COVID19,” Lucas said. “That will eventually change and speed up.”

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