Part III: Months on Hold for Rent Help

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.

Like most states, Georgia’s rental-assistance program was slow to get started due to the need to staff up, build an online application portal and inform residents on how to navigate the complex paperwork required for payment approval. Still, DCA pushed out $9 million in rent payments in July – far less than several states with similar-sized funding amounts such as Virginia, which cleared nearly $59 million that month, and North Carolina, which paid out more than $67 million. The following month, North Carolina’s pay-out total surpassed $133 million, Treasury data shows. Georgia’s tally was around $13 million.

“Something is missing,” said Bambi Hayes-Brown, president and CEO of the nonprofit housing coalition Georgia Advancing Communities Together. “They’re not reaching the people who are on the ground. They’re not reaching these grassroots organizations who are working with people who need the help.”

Georgia’s state government has trailed North Carolina in distributing emergency rental assistance. (Credit: Brittney Phan for State Affairs)

The slow pace has left many local housing advocates scratching their heads as to what’s causing the turnaround hurdles, especially since several Georgia city and county governments that also received $158 million in rent-assistance funding from the Treasury had paid out more than $100 million through October. Many such as Atlanta and Gwinnett County have since used up the remainder of their allocations, according to officials and federal data.

With the looming risk of losing funds, DCA officials have pledged to send $74 million in unspent rental assistance to local cities and counties that have drained their shares and still have thousands more tenants and landlords who need help. But even with that money shuffling, Georgia could still lose $100 million or more in rent funding clawed back by the Treasury and potentially given to other states that have distributed larger amounts of their allocations.

“This means that some programs might lose funding,” said Sarah Stein, an affordable-housing adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. “And perhaps households that could have been helped by that program might not be able to be helped if the geography’s different from where the money goes.”


Part IV: ‘I Have No Plan B’