Cobb commissioners approved a new rental assistance program Tuesday, their latest effort to address housing instability caused by the pandemic.
The $2 million program was first proposed by then-Commissioner Lisa Cupid in September but was rejected by the majority Republican board. Since then, Cupid won the race for county chair and Democrats flipped the five-member board, turning it blue for the first time since the 1980s.
The board approved Cupid’s proposal in a 4-1 vote, with Republican west Cobb Commissioner Keli Gambrill in opposition.
The program will make up to $4,800 available to Cobb residents who have struggled to pay rent since March 2020 due to a coronavirus-caused financial hardship, such as a pay cut or unemployment.
Three county nonprofits had been selected to administer the aid: the Sweetwater Foundation, the Center for Family Resources and MUST Ministries.
When it was brought before the board Sept. 8, then-Commissioner Bob Ott, who has since retired, said he couldn’t support the program because it did not require that applicants pay a portion of their overdue rent. Nor did it provide a mechanism to prevent applicants from getting more money than they need by seeking help from more than one of the nonprofits, he said.
It was shot down by Ott, Gambrill and north Cobb Commissioner JoAnn Birrell. Moments later, Ott introduced a similar program Gambrill had drafted that instead used a single provider, Maryland-based HomeFree USA, to administer the aid. It was swiftly approved in a 4-1 vote with Cupid opposed, but has run into problems since.
Although many have applied to the HomeFree program, few have been approved, Gambrill acknowledged Tuesday. The reason? Applicants simply aren’t turning in the paperwork her program requires.
One woman who addressed the board during its public comment period Tuesday, Tracey Miller, said she had applied for the HomeFree program. HomeFree representatives were “extremely helpful,” she said, but her landlord will not participate and has refused the money.
In a nod to its slow start, commissioners approved on Tuesday taking $2 million from the HomeFree program in order to fund Cupid’s.
“Documentation requirements for the new programs are the same as the existing in the (HomeFree),” Gambrill said, explaining her opposition. “And it goes back to the individuals not providing the documentation. So until we remove that barrier, we’re not going to be successful at administering funds.”
Others were more optimistic.
“We’re thankful that the Board approved additional rental assistance funding this morning,” Cobb Chief Magistrate Brendan Murphy said in an email. “(By) having these trusted non-profits partner with the Magistrate Court, the Board has ensured that this funding will efficiently and effectively get to the landlords and tenants that desperately need help right now as the CDC moratorium is set to expire before the next month’s rent is due.”