Help is On the Way, Georgia Renters, Landlords, and Utility Providers
The State of Georgia Rental Assistance Program
Optimism is warranted, but as the country and the world progress in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, substantial uncertainties abound. Those uncertainties include bridging the gap for landlords, renters, and utility providers seeking to maintain a most basic social need – roofs over renters’ heads. Renters around the country are on the brink of eviction and the demand for rental assistance programs throughout American communities is soaring. Fortunately, in Georgia some relief is in sight.
In February 2021, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced that the State of Georgia received more than $552 million in stimulus funds through the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program. These funds are a part of the larger $25 billion in relief Congress provided to States, U.S. Territories, local governments, and Indian tribes in order for those grantees to provide relief to landlords, renters, and utility providers for those renters who are behind on their rent and utility payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starting in early March 2021, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (“GDCA”) launched the State of Georgia Rental Assistance Program (“GRA”) to administer payments of the stimulus funds Congress granted to Georgia. The GDCA has a mandate to implement the GRA to assist renters with their past due rent and utilities. However, payments made under the GRA will be provided directly to landlords/owners and utility providers – not to renters.
Information on program details and the online application portal are available on the GDCA website here. Landlords, renters and utility providers seeking guidance on the GRA should consider the overview below.
GRA Assistance Eligibility
The GDCA can provide GRA assistance for renter households that meet the following guidelines:
- At least one household member that is qualified for unemployment benefits or has experienced a reduction in income, incurred significant costs or experienced other financial hardship due directly or indirectly to COVID-19;
- A demonstrated risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability (usually through an eviction notice or a past due rent statement); and
- A combined household income at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income ("AMI"), with priority given to: 1) households with a combined income below 50% of AMI, or 2) households with one or more individuals who have been unemployed 90 days or longer at the time of application.
Conversely the GDCA cannot provide GRA assistance to renter households:
- With incomes above 80% of AMI;
- That cannot show a “COVID-19 hardship” or risk of homelessness or housing instability with an eviction notice or a past due rent statement; or
- That receive a monthly federal subsidy (e.g. Housing Choice Voucher, Public Housing, Project Based Section 8) where rent is adjusted according to fluctuations in income.
GRA Assistance Scope and Limitations
The DCA has jurisdiction over the funds awarded to the State of Georgia. In addition to fund received by the State of Georgia, individual counties and cities with over 200,000 residents in Georgia were awarded funds and are setting up their own programs to cover their local jurisdictions. Some of those counties and cities are offering assistance currently. Others will launch by the beginning of April, 2021. Initially, DCA anticipates covering all jurisdictions of Georgia with the exception those areas receiving their own funding (counties and cities with over 200,000 residents).
Concerned landlords, renters, and utility companies should contact their local government entities for more information on the GRA rollout and/or rollout of funds in their particular county or city.
At this time, GRA payment assistance, including arrearages and future payments, generally are not to exceed 12 months’ rent and utilities. However, some households may be eligible for a total of 15 months’ of payments.
GRA Preparations for Renters
The CDC Eviction Moratorium has been extended until March 31, 2021, meaning that no one should be evicted solely for non-payment of rent until that date. Renters who have submitted a Declaration to their landlord pursuant to the CDC Eviction Moratorium, are likely perfect candidates for GRA assistance. Those renters and other eligible renters should prepared for the GRA rollout/assistance by (i) informing their landlords of the assistance available under the GRA, and (ii) beginning to compile the documents necessary for completing the GRA application process (see the GDCA website above). This would include in pertinent part all documents evidencing the renter’s household income, including income through any public benefits.
GRA Preparations for Landlords
With the understanding that a landlord/owner cannot apply for GRA assistance itself, landlord/owner’s or management companies should encourage eligible renters to seek GRA assistance. In order for a renter to be approved under the GRA and for landlord/owners to be able to receive payments landlords must work with renters and:
- Review and complete the landlord GRA application;
- Obtain legal documents necessary for identifying and proving of ownership and authorization/agreement to act on behalf of owner if applicant is a management company; and
- Compile the applicable executed lease(s) and ledger(s) showing the applicable renter payment history for 2020 and 2021, and landlord W-9 and bank information for ACH payment of GRA assistance funds.
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues, landlords and renters should avoid treating rent and utility disputes or shortfalls as a zero sum game. Landlords and renters alike are aligned in working toward GRA assistance. Landlords/owners and management companies should consider obtaining additional information on GRA assistance and sending notice/information to tenants of the GRA program/assistance to encourage renter participation and rental assistance to renters.