Part V: Is All Hands on Deck Enough?

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.

To beef up its assistance program, DCA had spent more than $11.2 million of its $552-million funding share through November on internal costs, mostly to hire temporary staff for processing applications, records show. The agency had about 125 workers for the assistance program in mid-December, less than half as many as North Carolina’s program that has paid out roughly $420 million of its total $522 million in rent payments. Staffing up early was key for North Carolina to overcome similar technical glitches and processing bottlenecks that Georgia has faced, said Laura Hogshead, the chief operating officer for the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency.

Even with the extra help, problems cropped up early in DCA’s program as processors would approve applications, only to have them stall with managers who double-check information for accuracy and underwriters who green-light the payments, said Leona Davis, a Gwinnett County resident who worked as a temporary DCA staffer from February to May.

“It was just overall chaotic and disorganized,” Davis said in an interview with State Affairs. “I’m a helpful person in heart. And it’s very frustrating and infuriating when you have a system that’s built to help people, but it was just so convoluted and flawed.”

Many staff for Georgia's rental assistance program work at the James H. "Sloppy" Floyd Building in Atlanta. (Credit: Beau Evans for State Affairs)

Going forward, DCA officials plan to hire an outside group to help weed out duplicate applications and fraud, increase part-time staff to work evening and weekend shifts, and expand outreach efforts with in-house and contracted marketing teams to raise awareness about how to apply. DCA had already spent more than $2.3 million on marketing, public relations and advertising for the program by December, state records show.

Many Georgia tenants and landlords just want DCA to keep them better informed about the status of their rent applications. Darion Dunn, a managing partner for the Atlanta-based real estate group Atlantica Properties, said the slow application turnaround and uncertainty creates friction between tenants strapped for money and landlords who need the rent.

“That’s what can lead to outcomes that aren’t good for affordable housing,” Dunn said. “During that time of uncertainty, evictions and collections are being filed against tenants. That hurts them for years. Landlords are selling their properties because they’re afraid, and they could be selling to new owners that are going to raise rents.”


Part VI: State Lawmakers Weigh in