National eviction ban nixed, but DeKalb’s remains in place

07/28/2021 — Decatur, Georgia — Packed belongings wait to be loaded into a truck in the living room of Joshua Elam’s residence in Decatur, Wednesday, July 28, 2021. Elam and his family have been renting this house for 2 years. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Combined ShapeCaption
07/28/2021 — Decatur, Georgia — Packed belongings wait to be loaded into a truck in the living room of Joshua Elam’s residence in Decatur, Wednesday, July 28, 2021. Elam and his family have been renting this house for 2 years. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The United States Supreme Court struck down the latest iteration of a nationwide eviction moratorium late Thursday, leaving millions of Americans at risk of homelessness.

But one metro Atlanta community still has its own ban on evictions in place.

Officials with DeKalb County confirmed Friday that the countywide eviction moratorium ordered by a local judge last month remains in effect — giving people with past due rent more time to try and resolve their situations and avoid landing on the street.

“The extra time will allow hundreds of additional families to benefit from [federal] rental assistance before it expires,” said Lindsey Siegel, an attorney with Atlanta Legal Aid.

“Unfortunately, no other county in Georgia has done the same, so in most parts of the state thousands of renters are at immediate risk of eviction because of the Supreme Court’s decision.”

DeKalb Chief Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson issued her order prohibiting evictions in the county on July 30, two days before a nationwide moratorium imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expired.

On Aug. 3, under pressure from tenant advocates and Democratic lawmakers, the public health agency issued a new eviction ban covering areas experiencing “substantial” or “high” levels of community transmission of COVID-19. At the time, about 90% of the country fell in those categories.

That ban was the struck down in an opinion issued late Thursday by the nation’s highest court. Three liberal justices dissented, but the majority ruled that the CDC lacked the authority to put an eviction moratorium in place without explicit congressional authorization.

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The decision could spell disaster for as many as 3.5 million Americans, according to Census Bureau data from early August. The bureau’s most recent Household Pulse Survey estimated that more than 76,000 in Georgia alone were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to be evicted in the next two months.

When Jackson’s order was filed late last month, 145 writs of eviction had already been scheduled to be executed in DeKalb and around 1,650 more were pending with the local marshal’s office.

At least 3,000 more cases have been estimated to be at earlier stages of the process.

The DeKalb moratorium is currently set to expire at 5 p.m. Aug. 30, but Jackson’s order said it is her “full intent” to extend it for at least 30 more days after that.

One of the stated goals of Jackson’s order was to give the county more time to distribute federal rental assistance through its Tenant-Landlord Assistance Coalition. Like nearly every other jurisdiction around the country, DeKalb has been slow in getting out the millions in aid money it received.

There are a variety of reasons for that, including a cyberattack that wiped out many applications submitted shortly after the program was announced in February. By June, only about 4% of the $21 million the county initially allocated for the program had been distributed.

Things have progressed more rapidly since then, but there’s still a long way to go.

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday that around $5 million had been distributed. He said a decision to increase the amount the county can allocate to cover each tenant’s past due rent has made landlords much more amenable to the process.

Under DeKalb’s program and most others, landlords can refuse assistance offered on behalf of their tenants. The Treasury Department has, however, offered increasingly stronger guidance encouraging jurisdictions to consider distributing funds directly to renters.

Ellie Thaxton, a community advocate from the Clarkston area, urged DeKalb to do that — and anything else that can get more money out as quickly as possible.

“By the time they spend that funding, people are already going to be evicted,” Thaxton said.

Thurmond said the county law department is studying it.

“I’m proud of Judge Jackson, I’m proud of DeKalb, and I’m proud that we have landlords that are willing to work with us,” the CEO said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this article.