Renters in Cobb may get more help from the federal government — a lot more.
Another $22 million in federal pandemic aid has come to Cobb. Unlike the $132 million the county received last April, however, Cobb’s governing board has little leeway in how it can spend the money, all of which must go toward rental assistance. And, for the first time, the money can also go toward tenants’ utilities and home energy costs.
In December, Congress passed its second major pandemic relief bill. The $900 billion bill included $25 billion for states and local governments with more than 200,000 residents “to provide for assistance with rent, rental arrears, utilities and home energy costs, utilities and home energy costs arrears, and other expenses related to housing,” according to county documents. Cobb received the $22 million Jan. 22.
The Board of Commissioners will consider on Tuesday formally accepting the money and splitting it equally among five nonprofits that have administered federal rental assistance on the county’s behalf during the pandemic: HomeFree-USA, Star-C Corporation, MUST Ministries, The Center for Family Resources, and Sweetwater Mission.
“That’s impossible to gauge,” Cobb Chair Lisa Cupid said when asked whether the money could keep county renters afloat through the summer, when President Joe Biden expects coronavirus vaccines to be available to any American who wants them. “But I do know,” she continued, that “it provides opportunities for us to help residents over a longer term, and to also address assistance with utilities.”
To date, Cobb has used federal pandemic relief to create three programs to assist struggling county renters: the program administered by Star-C, another administered by HomeFree, and a third, approved in January, jointly administered by MUST, Sweetwater and the Center for Family Resources. The three programs have been given about $10 million to distribute in total.
Cupid has proposed splitting the latest federal grant equally among the five organizations and streamlining the process of applying for assistance.
If commissioners approve the proposal, “we will have one application that all of the (organizations) will use,” Cupid said. Tenants would still have to decide which assistance program they are applying for, but those programs would no longer have different eligibility requirements, she explained.
If approved, each organization would be given $4.1 million to distribute. They would each be paid $366,000 for the work of administering the money.
WFN Consulting would be paid $457,000 for managing the entire $22 million grant and creating the streamlined application portal. Its responsibilities would include, according to county documents, invoice processing, reporting, project file management, technical assistance and monitoring.
Cobb Magistrate Court handles most of the evictions in the county and would receive $118,000 “to be able to accommodate the eviction caseload and handle these cases within the required timeframe.”
The Board of Commissioners’ meeting begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Cobb Administration Building at 100 Cherokee St. in Marietta.
In other business, the commissioners will meet Tuesday afternoon for a “work session” to discuss budget priorities for the coming fiscal year and ways to spend excess money from the 2016 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which has collected more than expected when it was approved by voters in 2014. That tax went into effect in 2016 and will expire at the end of this year.
At the work session, county department heads will offer “a condensed presentation of requests that were shared at the retreat,” Cupid said. Afterward, commissioners will “share what some of their funding priorities are, so that when we do get the (tax) digest in March, we will all have the benefit of having that information.”
At a board retreat in January, department heads delivered lengthy presentations detailing their needs; several focused on their struggle to hire and retain workers as well as aging equipment and infrastructure.
“They want to, potentially, increase wages, increase the number of employees,” west Cobb Commissioner Keli Gambrill said of county department heads. “That all has to be approved by the board. So Tuesday’s conversation is going to be, ‘Okay board, you were presented this, now (that) you’ve had time to digest it, what are we going to do?’”
That meeting will begin at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.