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Protesters blast Georgia for slow pace of rental help

November 16, 2021 GMT
Bruce Marks, CEO of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, speaks at a rally on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 in Atlanta demanding Georgia officials speed up the distribution of rental assistance. (AP Photo/Sudhin Thanawala)
Bruce Marks, CEO of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, speaks at a rally on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 in Atlanta demanding Georgia officials speed up the distribution of rental assistance. (AP Photo/Sudhin Thanawala)
Bruce Marks, CEO of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, speaks at a rally on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 in Atlanta demanding Georgia officials speed up the distribution of rental assistance. (AP Photo/Sudhin Thanawala)
Bruce Marks, CEO of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, speaks at a rally on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 in Atlanta demanding Georgia officials speed up the distribution of rental assistance. (AP Photo/Sudhin Thanawala)
Bruce Marks, CEO of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, speaks at a rally on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 in Atlanta demanding Georgia officials speed up the distribution of rental assistance. (AP Photo/Sudhin Thanawala)

ATLANTA (AP) — Scores of housing activists, tenants and lawmakers rallied Tuesday to pressure Georgia officials to speed up the distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid aimed at preventing evictions in the state.

Congress set aside nearly $1 billion in funding for Georgia to help tenants pay past due rent and utility bills during the pandemic, but the state has struggled to get the money out.

Georgia had distributed less than 10% of the first set of funds by the end of September, according to a report last week by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The report singled out Georgia, Ohio, Arizona and Tennessee for their slow disbursement of aid and large populations of renters.

At Tuesday’s rally in downtown Atlanta, Lajoycelyn Bowles, 43, said she has repeatedly contacted the Georgia Department of Community Affairs — the state agency administering Georgia’s funds— but has never heard back.

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She was diagnosed with COVID-19 in August and has been too sick to work. She received an eviction notice this week from her landlord in Lithonia, Georgia.

“I’m frustrated and pissed off,” she said.

Warren Crudup, 58, said a judge last week gave him seven days to leave his duplex in Atlanta after an organization that was helping him with rent stopped paying. He called the process of applying for help from the state “crazy.”

“They keep asking for all this information and then come back and say, ‘You live in the city line, or we didn’t get your paper work.’ Just all kinds of excuses,” he said.

The Department of Community Affairs said in a statement that it has distributed $44.2 million to more than 6,900 tenants and landlords so far. It has also added staff and extended working hours to handle an increase in applications since expanding eligibility to the entire state.

“A complete, accurate, and verifiable application package is required to receive assistance,” and “there is an anticipated 30-day application turnaround for completed submissions,” the agency said.

The rally was organized by the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, which plans additional protests in other places that are lagging in providing rental help. Protesters carried signs and chanted outside the offices of the community affairs department.

“The money is there, and it’s outrageous that tenants are being evicted,” said Bruce Marks, NACA’s CEO.

Marks blasted the community affairs department as one of the “most incompetent, unable, overwhelmed institutions in providing the assistance.”

The department’s deputy commissioner of housing, Tonya Cureton Curry, previously told the AP the agency has experience with rental assistance programs, but not at this scale.

Congress approved $46.5 billion in rental assistance for U.S. communities. More than $10 billion had gone out through Sept. 30, with the pace of spending picking up through the summer, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Officials credit that money with helping avert a wave of evictions after the U.S. Supreme Court in late August allowed evictions to resume.

The Treasury Department announced last month it would start reallocating money from those programs that either don’t need it or don’t have the desire to set up a program.

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Associated Press writer Michael Casey in Boston contributed to this report.