Commission passes Athens Eviction Prevention Program!

The Athens-Clarke County Mayor & Commission passed an ordinance to initiate an Athens Eviction Prevention Program. This program will help Athens residents facing eviction to stay in their homes by negotiating and paying settlements to landlords. The program, to begin in January 2022, will be run by Athenian First Development Corporation in tandem with the Clarke County Magistrate Court and Athens-Clarke County Unified Government.

On Tuesday, December 7 the Commission unanimously approved the contract, and associated budget ordinance, for Athenian First Development Corporation to run the Eviction Prevention Program. The Eviction Prevention Program will offer eviction prevention services and also facilitate distribution of rental assistance & utility payment assistance for those who are not facing eviction but still financially struggling due to the pandemic.

It is integral that we help people become housed and that we help people stay in their homes. This program will do just that. It will keep people in their homes, help families be stable, help people keep their jobs, stay in their schools, stay in their communities.

Commissioner Tim Denson at the December 7 meeting

Commissioner Tim Denson became aware back in December of 2020 of a similar program Gwinnett County had just launched called Project Reset. Commissioner Denson organized a meeting bringing together staff & electeds from both Gwinnett and Athens-Clarke County. Though there were delays and hurdles, the teamwork of ACC staff and the Magistrate Court brought together a concept to move forward with that will help Athens residents facing eviction that are at 80% or lower of the Area Median Income. The program is funded for 2022 with over $2.1 million American Rescue Fund dollars for direct assistance. The Eviction Prevention Program will first attempt to help the 350 currently pending eviction cases and then help an additional 25-30 households per month.

The Cost of Eviction Calculator, developed by the University of Arizona, puts a rough annual cost of evictions here in Athens costing the community over $25 million dollars.

Here is a description of how the program will work, taken directly from the EPP scope of work document:

Either landlords or tenants can apply for eviction prevention/rental assistance. Only tenants can apply for the Eviction Prevention Program utility assistance, and the request must accompany a rental assistance request. Upon the filing of a dispossessory case, the Magistrate Court will distribute information to both parties. If either party is interested, applications must be submitted through the Partner. Partner and other community entities (if applicable) and not the Magistrate Court – will screen applications for eligibility and contact both the landlord and tenant directly to follow up.

Once both parties have completed the application, Partner and other community entities (if applicable) will work with the landlord to settle the amount of past due rent owed by tenant. If the landlord reaches an agreement with Partner, the Partner will pay the landlord directly utilizing the federal funding sources specifically earmarked for COVID relief. The Partner, tenant and property manager/landlord will enter into a Consent Agreement that can be submitted to the Magistrate Court requesting to dismiss the dispossessory case and any counterclaims. Once the request for dismissal is filed, the tenant will become responsible for all rent going forward through the end of the existing lease. (The Eviction Prevention Program does not extend or renegotiate leases). If the tenant does not pay, the landlord can file a new eviction and the tenant may renew any counterclaims as permitted by law.

The Eviction Prevention Program is completely voluntary and does not prevent the landlord or tenant from asserting any rights under the lease agreement. However, the benefit to the landlord is that this program can help recoup past due rent in a relatively quick and easy manner, and without having to wait for a judgment and avoiding the lengthy and complicated post-judgment collection process. This program also benefits the tenants by giving them the opportunity to remain in the property through the end of the lease by wiping out the past due rent and allowing tenants to focus on current and future rental payments. It also avoids the tenant having an eviction judgment entered against them. Cases that do not apply for or settle through this program will be handled by Magistrate Court in the normal course, subject to any Orders Declaring Judicial Emergency, moratoriums, or any other eviction protections in place.

Read the full Scope of Work

Read the full contract with Athenian First Development Corp

Details will be made available closer to the first of the year for how people can apply.