DeKalb reopens rental assistance program, accepts another $9.9M grant

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond is defending his handling of an internal audit of the watershed department
Caption
DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond is defending his handling of an internal audit of the watershed department

County encourages those who previously applied to resubmit if they didn’t hear back

DeKalb County reopened applications for its hack-hampered, $21-million rental assistance program on Monday, receiving more than 400 requests on the first day alone.

That number, however, is actually lower than expected — and officials are asking those who applied the first time around to resubmit if they didn’t hear back.

Applications can be submitted at dekalbstatecourt.net/renthelp/.

“Things are running smoothly,” DeKalb Chief Operating Officer Zach Williams said during a Tuesday morning commission meeting.

DeKalb initially opened its so-called Tenant-Landlord Assistance Coalition in February. Thousands of applications poured in to the program, which is funded through a federal grant, and involves residents and landlords affected by the COVID-19 pandemic working with the local court system, mediators and Atlanta Legal Aid to stem the tide of evictions.

The goal was to target those already in some stage of the eviction process.

A few weeks after the program opened, though, officials say it was the target of an international cyberattack. While officials have maintained that no customer data was compromised, an affected server was handed over the FBI for investigation.

Many emails and applications were not recovered and, by last week, only about $900,000 of the program’s $21 million had been distributed.

While the TLAC program moves forward with a more secure application system and increased staffing, the county has also accepted a new federal grant of nearly $9.9 million to help residents with rent and utilities.

Commissioners approved the American Rescue Plan grant on Tuesday — and COO Williams said “significant portions” of the new money could skip the TLAC program and instead be sent to local nonprofits for distribution.

DeKalb sent millions of dollars to nonprofits that help with rent, utilities, food and other assistance earlier in the pandemic. Advocates and some commissioners had pushed to revisit that approach in recent weeks, as delays within the TLAC program became more apparent and the scheduled June 30 end of the CDC’s eviction moratorium looms.

“As we indicated last week, it is not going to be either-or,” Williams said. “It’s going to be TLAC plus not-for-profits. And it may be plus some things we haven’t even thought of.”