Part VI: State Lawmakers Weigh in

Illustration by Brittney Phan (State Affairs)

Dec 16, 2021
Key Points
  • Georgia ranks 12th-slowest among states for paying out $552 million in federal COVID-19 rental assistance that must be spent or given to other states.
  • Only $57 million— roughly 10% — had been distributed between April and mid-December even as state officials spent more than $11 million on internal costs.
  • The federal government could give millions of Georgia’s rent-assistance dollars to other states to spend on their residents if local officials don’t use it soon.

Some state lawmakers have agreed DCA’s rent-assistance program needs tightening. Others have shown more faith in DCA officials’ ability to speed up payment turnarounds, noting problems with incomplete applications and uncooperative landlords have hindered the process.

State Sen. Sally Harrell (D-Atlanta) suggested Georgia lawmakers could probe the DCA program to see how to make improvements in January when the General Assembly convenes for the annual legislative session. “We do need to do whatever we can to speed this money up and give it to the people who need it,” Harrell said.

State Rep. David Dreyer (D-Atlanta) urged quicker payment turnaround to help renters in need and keep Georgia from suffering the economic fallout of evictions. “If we were to deploy this money as it was intended, not only would it help people, but it would help the economy in Georgia,” Dreyer said. “And there’s a lot of places that could use a lot of extra help right now.”

State lawmakers are watching the progress of Georgia's rental assistance program. (Credit: Beau Evans for State Affairs)

Other Georgia lawmakers have urged faith in DCA’s program, noting the hurdles involved with paperwork processing. State Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said he’s been in contact with DCA officials about the issues they’ve encountered. “I think they’re ready to do whatever they need to do,” England said. “It’s just a matter of folks applying and the landlords actually responding back.”

State Rep. Steven Sainz (R-Woodbine), who serves as vice chair of the House Governmental Affairs Committee, said he hasn’t received a briefing yet from DCA about the assistance program. “I hope and expect DCA to do everything in its power to administer the funds equitably and expediently throughout the state,” Sainz said.

Some lawmakers have met with DCA officials in recent weeks to discuss challenges facing the program. State Rep. Becky Evans (D-Atlanta) said she’s waiting on details she requested from DCA about how much demand for rental assistance the agency has seen and which local nonprofit groups are working with DCA. “Is it because the demand isn’t there?” Evans said. “Or that we haven’t done a good enough job of publicizing?”

For state Rep. Viola Davis (D-Stone Mountain), the bottom line is DCA officials, local governments and lawmakers need to do whatever it takes going forward to make sure Georgians at risk of losing their homes receive help.

 “We can always come up with different excuses as to who’s to blame for slowing down the payments,” Davis said. “At the end of the day, we have people that we need to keep in housing. Period. And we need to work together to do it.”

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