‘It’s Inexcusable’: Just 10% of Georgia’s $552 Million in Rent Relief has Reached Tenants, Landlords after 8 Months

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.

The COVID-19 pandemic left thousands of Georgians without jobs and struggling to pay rent. In March, the federal government handed the state $552 million to fund a rental assistance program aimed at helping local tenants and landlords get back on their feet.

Eight months later, the state agency leading the program has paid out only $57 million in rent payments to Georgia applicants – a 10% clearance rate. Meanwhile, the state has spent more than $11 million on administrative costs to run the program, rounding out to roughly $1,000 needed spent on in-house costs for every average $6,300 payment.

Many other states like North Carolina have rolled out far more rent-assistance dollars to their residents, prompting frustration over the program’s slow pace from Georgia residents, housing advocates and some state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

For this story, State Affairs dug into payment data and spoke with housing advocates, local government officials and former temporary state staff to drill down the causes behind why Georgia’s rental assistance program has lagged.

Our Story

Part I: Falling Behind on Rent

Sade Braden has six kids, works two jobs and is about to be evicted from her metro Atlanta apartment. Nearly five months after applying for rental assistance, Braden still hasn’t heard from either the state, city or county officials whom she reached out to for help.

Part II: Lag Times Frustrate Georgians

As of the federal government’s last count, Georgia’s DCA ranked 12th worst among state agencies across the U.S. in terms of divvying up the rent funds it’s been given, according to Treasury data.

Part III: Months on Hold for Rent Help

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.

Part IV: ‘I Have No Plan B’

It’s not just the lengthy application that has slowed down Georgia’s rental assistance. Once approved, there’s also a delay in approved Georgians actually receiving their rent payments.

Part V: Is All Hands on Deck Enough?

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.

Part VI: State Lawmakers Weigh in

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.