Through its cities, Fulton County plans to distribute $18 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for rental assistance starting March 1, but how many residents receive the monies and how much each will get is still to be determined.
The county laid out four possible scenarios to dole out the funds: 12 monthly payments of $2,000 for an estimated 900 households, six payments of $2,000 for 1,800 households, 12 payments of $1,500 for 1,200 households or six payments of $1,500 for 2,400 households.
Fulton COO Anna Roach said the county is leaning toward capping payments at $1,500 per household because that option will serve more residents and is close to Fulton’s average rent of $1,300. But Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker offered another suggestion.
“Would it be better to cut back from six (months) to three but to double (the number of recipients) so we help more people who need assistance?” he said. “That’s just the way I’m hearing it from a pure numbers perspective. I would just want to get something over nothing.”
Bodker was one of several officials who spoke about the rental assistance program at the Fulton Board of Commissioners’ Feb. 12 special called mayors’ meeting, which was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. The mayors’ meetings normally are held monthly, but since the Feb. 5 one did not address the rental assistance program because other agenda items took longer than expected, it was scheduled for a week later.
The initiative’s funding is coming through the U.S. Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which was approved by Congress in December and includes COVID-19 relief funds. The city of Atlanta received its own rental assistance funds from the feds, so Fulton officials said they’re making sure anyone who applies for the monies through the county does not also get them from Atlanta.
The program will provide funds for both rent and utility payments but not mortgage assistance. To qualify, residents must meet the following eligibility requirements:
♦ has a household income at or below 80% of the area median income
♦ qualifies for unemployment or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurs significant costs or experienced a financial hardship due to the pandemic
♦ demonstrates a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability
Roach said the state also received $500 million in rental assistance funds, so it will be presenting a rent and utilities assistance program at the same time. She added the county is already moving forward on its plan to launch Fulton’s program.
That includes establishing a call center of 20 employees taking calls. It could be staffed by employees who normally worked at the county’s senior centers, arts and culture department and libraries, which are currently closed or have limited staff due to the pandemic, Roach said.
Fulton has already conducted a community-needs analysis and it plans to implement an application and administrative tool and an outreach strategy and establish a payment vendor before launching the program.
Pamela Roshell, the county’s deputy COO for health and human services, said the analysis was based on data from a U.S. Census Bureau American community survey from 2015-19, which has the most updated demographic information. Fulton estimates there are 37,000 renting households already vulnerable to housing loss based on income and percent of income spent on housing.
According to the county’s presentation document, among the cities to receive its funding, Sandy Springs has the largest number of vulnerable households due to the large renting population there. Also, high concentrations are along the Interstate 85 corridor in south Fulton and the Georgia 400 corridor in north Fulton.
Of the $18 million, $1.8 million will be used by the county for administrative costs and the remaining $16.2 million will go to residents for rental assistance. Several mayors and county commissioners said they wanted to ensure that both landlords and property management companies would be included in the program so no one is left out when rent is paid.
Some also want to ensure the program is a permanent solution and not a temporary one for residents close to eviction.
“I wonder about folks who have landlords that are (including) late fees,” District 3 Commissioner Lee Morris said. “Are we just putting off the inevitable unless we negotiate with the landlord before writing them that check? Maybe we have them waive the late fees.”
Though nonprofits are not eligible for the funds, some officials asked that they be able to provide input on ways to help the program since those organizations have their own well-established rental assistance initiatives.
Robb Pitts, the board’s chair, said he and other Fulton leaders would be meeting about the program again Feb. 16 and may decide then on the number of payments and amount each one would be.
“We are taking into account all the comments we received today,” he said.
For more information on the program, visit www.fultoncountyga.gov/rentalassistance.