COBB COUNTY, Ga. — A recent study found one in three U.S. households is behind on rent or mortgage payments and could be forced out of their homes. A federal eviction moratorium, instituted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in September, is set to expire on Dec. 31.
It comes as the U.S. is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, with experts predicting the holidays could continue the growing trend. The Ripple, an 11Alive investigation, looked at housing and other detrimental impacts due to COVID-19.
Despite the temporary eviction stay, oversight and accountability have been unequal. Some judges have ruled in favor of landlords, allowing thousands of evictions in certain cases if a particular state allows or if tenants violate lease terms.
Dr. Ben Williams, president of the Cobb County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), urged local leaders to help.
“Anybody who thinks they can operate in unusual times by taking care of business as usual is out of step," Williams said. "Sometimes it can be lawful and at the same time awful."
Williams and others have put pressure on Cobb County commissioners, asking that they meet by New Year's Day to pass an ordinance that would hold evictions for another 60 days. He specifically pointed to District 4, which includes Mableton, Powder Springs, and Austell, as needing the most help in the county.
"We have an eviction pandemic," Williams said. "I can see where the landlords are coming from, and there are no winners in this situation."
Williams told 11Alive he also planned to use legal action to try and buy time until Congress could put together a COVID-19 relief bill. One bipartisan stimulus package would provide $25 billion in emergency rental assistance and extend the CDC's moratorium through the end of January.
Cobb County said its hands are tied when it comes to individual eviction cases, pending action from a federal court judge, or developments in Congress.
County spokesperson Ross Cavitt said the county has taken steps to mitigate eviction risks, including temporarily pausing the automatic scheduling of eviction hearings in magistrate court, and rescheduling cases after the CDC's stay expired.
Cavitt said following Tuesday night's board of commissioners meeting, the county's legal team started looking into whether the county had the authority to enact a local moratorium. Cavitt said typically, the order would come from the Chief Justice of Georgia's Supreme Court or the governor. Cavitt said the county was also waiting on further action from Congress in their push to pass a COVID-19 relief bill.
Cobb County Commissioners appropriated $14,278,000 in CARES Act funding to help with rental assistance and mortgage holders facing difficulties during the pandemic. Anyone living in an apartment community in Cobb County should contact Star-C for more information about program terms and eligibility. HomeFree-USA's Cobb County HomeSaver is also available for rental assistance.
The City of Atlanta is also offering rental, mortgage, and utility assistance through CARES Act funding. The deadline to apply in-person is Friday, December 19.