The numbers are disappointing.
According to a Fulton County document, as of May 6, regarding the county’s emergency rental/utilities assistance program for individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and paid for with federal coronavirus relief funds, a total of 17,705 landlord and tenant applications have been filed, with 7,260 in progress and 10,444 submitted. Of the ones in progress, 38 were withdrawn, 5,195 were denied and only 175 were approved, with 133 paid and 24 pending payment.
A total of $708,000 has been expended out of a budget of $18.0 million, with $665,025 in rent (out of a budget of $15.2 million) and $42,703 in utilities paid out of a budget of $1.0 million). The administrative cost is $1.8 million, and only $300,000 has been expended so far. The county has received 14,320 calls, with 10,171 answered and 3,621 abandoned.
But the county has some excuses for the fact that so little funds have been given out so far and is working to resolve other issues, Fulton COO Anna Roach said.
“These are large numbers at the top of this slide, but quite frankly, as we received these applications and did our mass denials for (applicants from) the city of Atlanta and outside of our jurisdictions, we’re now looking at a more manageable number to adjudicate,” Roach said, referring to the fact that Atlanta has its own rental/utilities program since it received separate COVID-19 relief funds.
“One of the other things we talked about earlier as well are the challenges around case-managing the applications through the application process and the somewhat unexpected challenges we got into in terms of applications having mismatched names on the lease, etc. So one of the things we did to address that issue is engage a firm … to come in and augment the staff that we had to help us work through those applications and get them to the point where we could adjudicate and approve them quicker than we had been able to do in the past. We’re very excited to have them on board. They started yesterday.”
Roach provided an update on the program at the Fulton Board of Commissioners’ May 7 monthly mayors meeting, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the board’s May 5 meeting, at least two commissioners raised concerns about the fact that so little funds for the program had been given to those who needed them.
“It’s really frustrating to see those numbers, and we know there are folks out there who need assistance,” District 1 Commissioner Liz Hausmann said. “Also, there’s a bucket of (federal stimulus) money to support arts funding, $135 million. So I hope we can provide that soon.”
At the May 7 meeting, Roach said she plans to meet with Fulton’s law department/county attorney’s office, auditor’s office and finance department “to see if there’s any layers that we could eliminate as part of our approval process without putting our compliance at risk.”
College Park Mayor Bianca Motley Broom asked if anymore applications were being accepted by the county, and Roach said no but Fulton plans to reopen the application portal once it gets another bucket of emergency assistance funds.
Motley Broom also said she’s not surprised the county would have problems with delays regarding the application process.
“Frankly, and I don’t mean this in any sort of negative way. I fully expected these issues because they’re the ones we’ve seen in our own experience (while) trying to administer the (federal) CDBG funds that we received for utility assistance,” she said of the program run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “The challenges, and I think I talked about this a month or two ago, is with the process itself.
“If there are ways in which you see opportunities to streamline the process or ways in which we might be able to eliminate some of the hoops people have to go through, I would love to know that and want to keep the lines of communication open because we’ve seen challenges as well, just getting people through the process.”
Roach said she would share any information about that with the cities if they were successful. Several mayors said they appreciated the county’s ability to collaborate and coordinate with the cities, especially since Fulton was criticized last year by the mayors for not doling out to the cities their fair share of Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds.