As the federal eviction moratorium ends Saturday, MUST Ministries and the Cherokee County Magistrate Court are anticipating a backlog of cases and more residents facing evictions.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention instituted a ban on evictions on Sept. 4 to prevent homelessness and overcrowded housing conditions that could spread COVID-19. According to a document from the Congressional Research Service, the temporary moratorium, which only covers nonpayment of rent, was extended through Jan. 31 after expiring Dec. 31. It was then extended again three more times through March 31, June 31, and July 31.
As of June 29, as many as 191 Cherokee County residents could be facing eviction, Falecia Stewart, vice president of housing at MUST Ministries, said, using an estimate from Thursday. She said MUST will continue to provide assistance as the non-profit organization anticipates that number to grow when the ban expires.
“Our housing program will continue to operate as normal, however we have brought on additional staff to help with administering the Emergency Rental Assistance Program,” Stewart said.
Cherokee County received $4.5 million through the U.S. Treasury in March and engaged MUST Ministries to administer its Emergency Rental Assistance program, Stewart said. This program assists individuals with rent and utilities for up to 15 months, including 12 months back rent, and an additional three months. In this program, applicants must reapply for the additional three months after past due rents are paid. Landlords or tenants affected can apply.
Since the program started in April, MUST has paid out $875,362 in assistance to 235 tenants/landlords, according to Erika Neldner, communications director for the Cherokee County government. Overall, the program has received 517 applications. These numbers were reported as of July 29.
Cherokee County gave an additional $275,000 to MUST for eviction prevention assistance from federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding late last year. These funds help to provide the eviction prevention assistance for up to six months.
Even with relief funds and programs in place to assist with eviction cases, Stewart said she is concerned about the expected rise in new eviction case filings after Saturday.
“During the ban, if clients produced the documents stating that they are actively seeking rental assistance, a landlord couldn’t evict them, so many landlords didn’t file for eviction for this reason,” Stewart said. “But now that the ban is expiring, landlords will be able to move forward with an eviction, which will result in many more cases, as well as a greater need for affordable housing.”
While many cases pertaining to the eviction moratorium were not filed during the moratorium period, the court still continued to accept eviction cases not covered by the moratorium, said Gregory Douds, chief associate magistrate with Cherokee County.
About 60 cases were halted by court order where tenants qualified for protection under the moratorium, Douds said. Several more of these cases stalled because of a 15-month judicial emergency ordered by the Supreme Court of Georgia that closed the courtroom to the public. This emergency recently ended, and Douds said the magistrate court will begin having in-person trials during the first week of August. He added that he anticipates a spike in new eviction case filings after the moratorium ends.