Cobb County creates housing stability court for families facing eviction

Pilot program will provide education, resources, and financial assistance to divert families out of eviction court

Cobb County is creating a new way to help families facing eviction.

The Board of Commissioners unanimously approved an agreement between the Magistrate Court and the Center for Family Resources last week creating a housing stability court to divert eligible families out of the courtroom where they face eviction and gives them resources to help improve their financial stability.

During the pandemic, the state of Georgia struggled to disburse federal emergency rental assistance, leaving many tenants facing eviction. The Cobb County Magistrate Court worked with several nonprofits to distribute nearly $55 million over a two-year period that helped thousands recover after losing their jobs, facing health issues, or otherwise struggling due to pandemic-related hardships.

“There were evictions before the pandemic, there were evictions during the pandemic, and there would be evictions afterward,” said Chief Magistrate Judge Brendan Murphy. “What became important to us was, with these last remaining federal funds, to try to stretch them as far as possible to try to help as many families as we could.”

The board previously allocated just over $1.3 million in remaining federal emergency rental assistance funds to go toward the housing stability court pilot program, which will officially launch in the coming weeks.

The Center for Family Resources is a nonprofit in Cobb that provides assistance and resources for people who are homeless or facing housing instability. CEO Melanie Kagan said many individuals facing eviction have an unexpected event that causes them to fall behind and get stuck. This program will help bridge the gap.

“The educational piece is a big component of actually changing the trajectory for the families we work with,” Kagan said. “The economy, coupled with our lack of affordable housing and the increases people are seeing to rent — it’s just causing the perfect storm for people to lose their housing.”

The target population for the program is households that have children, make below 50% of the median area income, and have not faced eviction in the last seven years. Tenants must also show financial hardship, unexpected costs or a reduction in household income caused by the pandemic, either directly or indirectly, and their landlords must agree to participate in lieu of eviction.

The nonprofit already has working relationships with many landlords, most of whom are willing to work through issues with the tenants, she said.

Those who meet the requirements will be eligible to receive financial assistance for up to three months or $6,000 in past due rent, along with funds for future rent payments, utility bills, childcare and transportation. They will also participate in financial literacy and budgeting workshops, legal services, and employment training through Work Source Cobb.

Once tenants complete the 12-week program, their records will be sealed to keep the eviction record from impacting their future housing options.

“Past evictions are one of the barriers that are the hardest to overcome when they’re going to try to find a new lease,” Kagan said.

The program is modeled on the county’s accountability courts, which give eligible criminal defendants the opportunity to participate in rehabilitation and remediation programs in lieu of serving a sentence. Similarly, the housing stability court program is designed to help individuals “identify what the root cause of the eviction was and why people are having the financial issues they are,” while giving them the wrap-around resources needed to improve their situation, Kagan said.

If the housing stability court is successful, Murphy and Kagan said they will aim to get private funding to continue the program and expand in the future.