Eviction notices loom for thousands of Atlanta residents, but a proposal would allow the city to help these tenants keep their homes.
Under the proposal, the Office of the Public Defender would provide eviction defense services to people classified as indigent. The office’s staff would also assist clients with administrative hearings stemming from eviction notices.
Why it matters: Helping Atlanta residents stay in their homes should be one of the city’s priorities since the federal eviction moratorium imposed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic was blocked in August by the U.S. Supreme Court, said City Councilman Michael Julian Bond, who introduced the legislation.
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“People need help and what better place than an Office of Public Defender to help the public defend themselves…so they can get fair and equitable representation,” he said.
By the numbers: As of Oct. 1, there have been 17,552 eviction filings since April 1, 2020, on properties entirely or partially in Atlanta, according to Atlanta Regional Commission Communications Manager Paul Donsky.
Yes, but: Since the moratorium was lifted, a wave of eviction notices was expected, but so far they have generally remained below prepandemic levels.
Fulton County typically handles more than 45,000 eviction-related issues each year, said Chief Magistrate Judge Cassandra Kirk. In 2020 during the height of the COVID pandemic, the court processed 22,952 filings, she said.
What’s often forgotten in the discussion is that only 20-30% of tenants respond to eviction notices once they are filed in the court, says, Viraj Parmar, managing attorney with the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation. This means that many tenants are evicted with no hearing or trial, he said.
Parmar said he expects eviction notices to increase in January as it historically does.
Kenneth Days, director of Atlanta’s Office of Public Defender, supports the proposal because “you’re going to have a floodgate of folks” facing eviction now that the moratorium has been lifted. He expects the load will be more than what volunteer organizations can handle.
Public defender offices across the country are moving toward a “client-centered holistic representation” model that not only handles criminal cases but the “collateral issues” like eviction, Day told Axios.
“For us, it’s important to stabilize communities to offer those services rather than standing on the sidelines and not being able to do anything about it,” he said.
The proposal was discussed at the Oct. 11 Public Safety and Legal Administration Committee, but was put on hold when the city’s Department of Law questioned if the Georgia Constitution allows Atlanta to provide residents professional services “that have a monetary value to private individuals,” a violation of the Gratuities Clause.
What’s next: Bond said hopes he can have a discussion to come up with suitable language to present by next month’s committee hearing.
“I’m hoping that the righteousness of this will win out,” he said.
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