Cobb commissioners approve funds for Cobb Legal Aid’s Housing Stability Project

Chief Magistrate Judge Brendan MurphyChief Magistrate Judge Brendan Murphy speaks at Cobb BOC meeting (screenshot from the video of the meeting)

In a 4-0 vote the Cobb County Board of Commissioners approved $681,925 to “establish and support Cobb Legal Aid’s Housing Stability Project to provide legal services for those eligible households related to eviction proceedings and maintaining housing stability through increased education and awareness of Georgia’s eviction laws.”

Cobb County Chief Magistrate Judge Brendan Murphy, who wrote the letter requesting the funds, and presented the proposal to the BOC, said “Joining us here in the board room is Jennifer Yankulova. She is the managing attorney for Cobb Legal Aid.”

Murphy said that funds allocated to Cobb from the ERA1 program, which has been providing rental assistance to Cobb tenants through a group of service providers, has been about a third of the way spent.

“The county has also accepted approximately $7 million in ERA2 funding, but has not yet allocated that money, since you’re still spending out ERA1 through the providers,” he said.

“The ERA2 program allows up to 10% to be spent on housing stability services,” Murphy said. “The Treasury guidance defines one such housing stability service as including low income legal services. So that would be provided by an organization like Cobb Legal Aid.”

“We all know under the Constitution, there’s a right to counsel and you find that through the circuit defender’s office, there is no attendant right in civil cases, although in a civil case, your child can be taken from you,” he said. “Your home could be taken from you, your job can be taken from you.”

“And so what this is asking the board to do is invest in civil legal representation, Cobb Legal Aid, at no expense to the county,” Judge Murphy said.

“I’m very excited to report there’d be two national best practices brought to Cobb County through this action,” he said.

“One would be an answer clinic, a lawyer on site, when folks come in to answer their eviction action, they could consult with a lawyer on site right then and there,” said Murphy. “And then having on site legal representation, so that when folks come to their hearing, they’d be able to consult with an attorney right then and there for either limited scope or full scope representation.”

“This proposal runs through the end of 2024. If the county accepts … a second tranche of ERA2 money, the program could be extended through September of 2025,” Murphy said.

Judge Murphy said that he wished he could say that Cobb had the best approach to rental assistance in the U.S., but that Nashville has a full eviction diversion program up and running already, and that this proposal before the BOC would be a down payment on such a system.

Chairwoman Cupid thanked Cobb Legal Aid for stepping up even before funding was available, and also thanked the other non-profit partners in rental assistance, and County Attorney Deborah Blair.

With that she made a motion to provide the requested funding, and it passed 4-0, with Commissioner Keli Gambrill absent.