Rental assistance picks up speed as Cobb tops $5.6M disbursed

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Jul. 14—MARIETTA — Cobb County has distributed over $5.6 million of its $23 million rental assistance program, Deputy County Attorney Debbie Blair said this week.

The announcement points to the county's ramping up of one of its major pandemic response programs, which sat at around $3.5 million disbursed as of June 7.

Representatives from four of the five non-profits contracted by the county to administer the program—Star-C, MUST Ministries, the Center for Family Resources, Sweetwater Mission, and HomeFree—said they were working steadily to speed up the aid as the CDC eviction moratorium is set to end July 31.

Chief Magistrate Judge Brendan Murphy said the total amount of assistance distributed is likely much higher than the $5.6 million, as a lag exists in the reporting process. And the moratorium's end, he added, is unlikely to be as cataclysmic as once feared.

"I'm happy to report that there will not be hundreds, or thousands, of (eviction) orders that become automatically effective in Cobb County upon expiration," Murphy said, noting so far just 29 cases will be unfrozen at the end of the month.

The moratorium, Murphy reminded commissioners, only applies to tenants unable to make their rental payments; evictions for other reasons can still be enforced.

Across the four non-profits who presented Tuesday (Sweetwater Mission did not attend), nearly 4,300 requests for rental assistance have been received under the current program, which began April 1. Of those, over 1,200 have been approved for funding.

Of the remaining applications, most are in the queue to be processed. Federal guidelines put stringent reporting standards on the non-profits and require more documentation than previous assistance programs, slowing the process significantly.

Relatively few of the applications, meanwhile, have been rejected outright. Those that have are largely due to insufficient documentation.

"It's not a program where if you're 99%, then you can go ahead and get approved, and get the funds," said Earnest Davis of HomeFree. "If we're waiting for one piece of documentation ... we just cannot move forward."

Others have been turned away because while they may have fallen on hard times in the last 18 months, their circumstances don't fit the government's definition of a "COVID hardship," which must be a financial loss caused directly by the pandemic.

Said Star-C Executive Director Audrea Reese, "Just because you're having a hardship during the time of COVID does not mean you're having a COVID hardship."

Reese said the average payout for her organization right now sits around $5,000, but "we expect for that number to go up, because initially we were primarily focused on rental arrears. But this program allows for the payment of three months' rent in advance ... we are confident we will get (the remaining funds) paid out over the course of this year."

In the interest of continuing to speed up the program, county spokesman Ross Cavitt has commissioned the printing of direct mail fliers advising residents of the program. Cavitt said the fliers should reach around 31,000 apartment households around the county.

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