Rental eviction filings rise in metro Atlanta after moratorium ends

The skyline of downtown Atlanta is visible near Lindbergh on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. (Christine Tannous / christine.tannous@ajc.com)

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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The skyline of downtown Atlanta is visible near Lindbergh on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. (Christine Tannous / christine.tannous@ajc.com)

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Eviction filings by landlords are rising in metro Atlanta after a federal moratorium ended, despite tens of millions of dollars in rental assistance to keep tenants in their homes.

In the four weeks after the Supreme Court struck down the moratorium against evictions, landlords in the five core counties filed for nearly 11,000 evictions, more than in the same period last year but still fewer than in 2019, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.

In the most recent two weeks, though, filings were 19% higher than two years ago, said Erik Woodworth, an ARC data scientist.

During the moratorium, introduced early in the pandemic and then renewed, landlords filed for evictions against roughly 100,000 renters in those core counties. The vast majority are still pending, which means a wave could be coming, he said.

“We can’t lose sight of that reservoir behind the dam,” said Woodworth. “That is the most immediate concern.”

Filings are only part of the story. Typically, most filings do not lead to a tenant’s removal, but there is no central database on the number of times that local sheriffs or marshals execute those writs.

Eviction filings are rising even as the state government, counties and some cities are disbursing rental assistance in two rounds of federal funding appropriated by Congress and administered by the U.S. Treasury Department.

The five core metro counties have disbursed the bulk of funds allocated to them in the initial round. But Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs, which controls the lion’s share of nearly $1 billion in federal rental relief funds earmarked for the state, has moved much more slowly.

Housing advocates say that rental assistance in metro Atlanta has made a huge difference — preventing the removal of thousands of families, even though most of the money has still not been disbursed.

Views differ on whether the need for rental assistance is rising or not. Some feared an avalanche of evictions after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration’s moratorium on Aug. 26. That avalanche hasn’t happened, but it could take several more weeks to have a clearer picture, according to economists and rental housing experts.

ExploreEvictions likely to climb in metro Atlanta as court ends moratorium

The Supreme Court ruling did not lead to a flurry in calls for assistance, according to Cobb County officials. They say their Magistrate Court program has steered tenants in crisis to the emergency rental assistance to keep the numbers down.

But programs that rely only on a court-centric approach are missing tenants, argued DeKalb Commissioner Ted Terry.

The county should give more money directly to local nonprofits and allow them to distribute it to people in need, he said. “It’s clear that we still have a broader need out there. We just need all hands on deck.”

One of those non-court groups is Marietta-based MUST Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit, which helps dole out rental assistance in Cobb and Cherokee counties.

The number of calls for help is up since the moratorium ended, said Falecia Stewart, the group’s vice president of housing. “We’re really just trying to do as much as we can to keep people where they are,” she said.

Among the core metro counties, Fulton said Wednesday it had disbursed all $18 million of its federal rent relief funds.

Cobb has disbursed about two-thirds of its $22.9 million. Gwinnett has disbursed about the same amount. DeKalb, which had its own moratorium until this week, has disbursed 52%.

On Tuesday, Cobb County commissioners voted to allocate an additional $6.6 million in rental assistance, on top of the initial $22.9 million.

“Now that we’ve been through this cycle, at least with the first round of funds, I would like to see the pace move a lot quicker than it has been,” said Cobb Commissioner Monique Sheffield.

Municipalities were told to disburse 65% of the first round of funds by Sept. 30, but there are no penalties for missing that mark, according to a spokesman for Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs.

The state so far isn’t even close: the DCA’s program expended just $27 million by the end of August, a small fraction of the $552 million received in the first round of funds. But DCA officials said that they only recently began offering payments in the large-population counties around Atlanta and they expect disbursements to accelerate.

By some measures, the risk is painfully high.

Roughly 15% of Georgia renters in a United States Census Bureau survey earlier this month said they were “very likely” to be evicted in the next two months.

Getting federal payments out more quickly is especially crucial since the daily average for COVID-19 cases in Georgia is about three times as high as it was a year ago, said Sarah Stein, research adviser to the Community Economic Development team at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

“This is about public health and by those numbers, we are in a worse scenario now than a year ago,” she said.

Getting a tenant approved for rental assistance takes longer than the eviction process in Georgia, she said. “The timeline is pretty quick. You have seven days to respond to the filing. And if the court determines it, you have seven days to leave.”

However, she said it is still nearly two months too soon to know whether the eviction filings foreshadow a broader crisis.

Or it could be that the crisis is more visible in some places, like Clayton County, said Deb Anglin, chief executive of Hearts to Nourish Hope, which runs a food pantry and housing programs.

“We have seen a rise in landlord filings. It has definitely gotten worse,” said Anglin.

--Staff reporter Tyler Estep contributed to this report.


Eviction filings, five core counties*, post-moratorium:

Week one: 1,417

Week two: 1,351

Week three: 5,245

Week four: 2,705

*Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett

Source: Atlanta Regional Commission

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Eviction filings in 2021* compared to 2019:

August: 23% below

September: 13% below

*September data through Sept. 25

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

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Eviction filings*, five core counties:

August, 2019 12,491

August, 2020: 4,116

August, 2021: 9,121

September, 2019: 13,117

September, 2020: 7,718

September, 2021: 10,718

*September data through Sept. 25

Source: Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank

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County by county, first round of rental assistance money:

Clayton

Share of money disbursed: Information not available Wednesday

Cobb

Share of money disbursed: 66%

DeKalb

Share of money disbursed: 52%

Fulton

Share of money disbursed: 100%

Gwinnett

Share of money disbursed: 64%