By Arielle Robinson
Ahead of Saturday’s expiration of the national eviction moratorium, housing advocates approached the Cobb Board of Commissioners at their Tuesday meeting, where they asked the board to address evictions and problems with apartment management.
Housing advocates spoke during the public comment portions of the meeting.
Denise Stroman said that her children have to take allergy shots because of the mold in her apartment. She also said that her carpet needs replacement but her landlord said she would have to pay higher rent — something she cannot afford.
Stroman also drew attention to wider issues she sees affecting residents in Cobb, like the increased costs of living.
“We need more wages, or even wages to go up between $20 to $25,” Stroman said. “We need public housing in Cobb County [and] long-term assistance. Without a home for families to live in, children will not be able to focus on school.”
Stroman also called on the Board to support an extension of the eviction moratorium.
“We don’t want anyone to be put out on the street and their belongings thrown outside,” Stroman said.
Cobb Southern Christian Leadership Conference Field Director Rich Pellegrino said that COVID-19 has brought attention to long-standing housing issues in Cobb.
Pellegrino said unaffordable housing and overall issues have existed since he has lived in the county.
Pellegrino thanked the Magistrate Court and other Cobb employees and organizations for the work they have done with evictions but said there is still an emergency that looms.
He said the SCLC works to mitigate the situations between landlord and tenants and that they receive calls from many across the county with housing problems. As the moratorium approaches, Pellegrino said that more time is needed for the SCLC to help others with housing.
“We need some air support for the ground troops,” Pellegrino said. “And the only solution that we can see is an extension of the moratorium. …But at the same time, we don’t want to see the landlords — even if they’re corporate entities, they have to make a profit too — hurt, so they need landlord mitigation.”
President Joe Biden’s administration announced Thursday that they will let the CDC’s eviction moratorium expire after the day it is set to end, which is this Saturday.
The Biden administration attributes their decision to the Supreme Court, which indicated that it would block extension of the moratorium.
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh said he would block all attempts to extend the ban on evictions unless Congress takes up the issue.
Biden has turned to Congress with the hope that they will take action. The House introduced a bill Thursday while aides to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Senate Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Senator Sherrod Brown were working on legislation to extend the moratorium.
But the effort failed as the House adjourned on Friday without addressing the issue after House Democratic leaders could not secure enough votes for passage.
At Tuesday’s BOC meeting, Cobb Chief Magistrate Judge Brendan Murphy said that the county has gone through about one-third of the funds from the first federal emergency rental assistance program the county chose to allocate, also known as ERA1.
He said Cobb has accepted about $7 million for ERA2 but has not yet distributed the money because ERA1 has not been fully allocated.
In February, the BOC chose five non-profits to distribute ERA funds to renters who qualify.
Although ERA has helped some Cobb residents, BOC Chairwoman Lisa Cupid acknowledged Tuesday that not everyone qualifies for assistance and that has taken a toll on some people.
In addition to accepting ERA funds, at the board meeting, 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.”
Murphy wrote the letter requesting the funds and presented to the board about the project.
At the meeting, Cobb resident Davita Carter passed a print-out and read off multiple sections of the 1968 Civil Rights Act to the Board. One of the sections she included was Title VIII, which is the Fair Housing Act.
The Act forbids discrimination in housing and requires that federal housing programs promote fair housing practices.
Carter said that marginalized people are priced out of their homes around Cobb County.
Carter pointed to the case of a friend who lives at Azure at Riverside Apartments in Austell who is a cancer survivor and has been evicted.
“They gave her 120 days to find a place from Azure. She hasn’t found one yet,” Carter said. “She has two days put up from MUST Ministries in a hotel so she’s homeless — and she’s about to be homeless again. This Fair Housing Act provided the law … to protect her. She’s not being protected.”
Carter also said there are not many options for Section 8 housing in Cobb and that a good number of people have lost their vouchers.
As the moratorium ends and few places accept Section 8 vouchers, Carter said the future for Cobb looks bleak.
“It’s going to be a tent city right in Cobb County,” she said.
DeLancy helped gather advocates to speak Tuesday.
During the millage rate public hearing, DeLancy talked about the lack of Section 8 housing in Cobb. DeLancy told the story of the woman who stood next to her as she spoke. She said the woman lost her voucher and has couchsurfed for four months since.
During public comment, DeLancy said that apartment management decides who lives and who leaves apartments to the detriment of residents.
“When these apartment complexes decide that maybe you speak up too much, then we’re going to terminate your leases,” DeLancy said. “Or maybe when they decide that they don’t want to collect any more from housing subsidies — again, we’re going to terminate your leases. So how can you have a stabilized community if we have these … property owners deciding who lives in the community?”
Camisha Muhammad said that she had made the newer management aware of numerous issues at her Austell apartment complex but that they get little to no response.
“[Management was] quick to let us know where to pay the rent but have been less than enthusiastic about answering service issues,” Muhammad said. “I’ve had flooding issues and ongoing electrical issues. …My neighbors have had similar issues with the same type of lackadaisical response from the management team. We still cannot use the pool that we are paying for.”
Muhammad said that if she has issues she knows her neighbors at nearby apartments have issues as well. She said that one of the neighboring complexes must go to another apartment complex to pay rent because that one does not have leasing agents in the office.
The resident also said that although the property she lives at has been sold around every five years, infrastructure issues are not fixed.
“Let me remind you of Surfside Condominiums, that recently collapsed due to lack of preventive maintenance in Florida — it was sinking into the ground,” Muhammad said. “The owners collected fees and did nothing. Be reminded of other apartment complexes in Cobb and the Atlanta metro area that have fallen into such disrepair that they’re uninhabitable.”
Quantina Scott has been part of an effort to find residents, including herself, at the Legacy at West Cobb somewhere to live after new apartment management kicked them out due to renovation.
Many residents there use Section 8 vouchers and have previously said that they cannot find an affordable place to live.
Scott began her public comment by thanking Commissioner Monique Sheffield for attending town halls for Legacy residents for two days in a row.
The town halls were last week and held between residents, property owners and community advocates to assist residents with the move.
Sheffield said that the owners agreed to provide stipends to help people move as well as a discount to those who will use a moving company.
Sheffield also said MUST Ministries will pay residents’ security deposit and first month’s rent. She said several apartment complexes had been contacted to help people find emergency housing.
After she thanked Sheffield and Cupid for their help, Scott mentioned how stressed out she is over her and other residents’ circumstances at the Legacy at West Cobb.
“The situation that’s going on at my apartment complex is saddening, it hurts me,” Scott said. “Because there are people who are disabled who can’t go get work. …It’s hard.”
Scott said she is worried for herself and others while trying to find a place to live because of how high rent is.
“If we don’t find housing for these people who are essential workers, who service you at Kroger, who service you at Publix, who service you at these fast food restaurants and even at the Braves Stadium — those are the people that work,” Scott said. “Those are the low-income people that are willing to work for $8, $10. If you price them out, who’s going to do those jobs?”
Scott said that with the end of the moratorium there comes a tsunami.
“Twenty-seven to 50 people at my complex [being evicted], 40 people at the complex next door for evictions after people had applied for assistance, that’s almost 100 people,” Scott said. “ … that’s not including a whole lot of other people who aren’t speaking up.”
After advocates spoke, Cupid addressed residents.
She presented a slideshow that listed local organizations renters can work with if they need emergency rental assistance. She said the county will also send the information out electronically.
Aside from the slideshow, Cupid expressed dismay at what she said was the hostile tone that the advocates who spoke took with her and the Board through public comment.
She said there was a “disconnect” between housing advocates who spoke, and the Board, on how to address housing.
“Every meeting, we’ve had a number of people come and address housing,” Cupid said. “We don’t respond to each comment because we want to give people the freedom to be able to speak objectively. …But I can say, seeing the number of speakers and the tone and tenor, that sometimes puts a damper on the efforts that have been underway by members of this board, by members of our staff, by members of our community because people have been doing a lot to assist those in need.”
Cupid said that the unfortunate part of being a renter is that they are bound by the contract they signed with the landlord.
She said that unless the housing is federally backed then there is no rule that can make a landlord go beyond the limits of their contract.
The state handles contracts between landlords and tenants, not local governments, the chairwoman said.
Cupid said that advocates and the board along with relevant county employees should work together to come up with some sort of solution rather than advocates just speaking at the Board during meetings.
“I’m not understanding what we’re getting from this other than perhaps you’re bringing it to the public spotlight,” Cupid said. “But it’s hurting people who are trying to help.”
She also said that non-profits have stepped, up as well as Murphy and Sheffield, in particular.
Cupid said that Murphy and Sheffield receive much criticism in the emails residents send to officials despite the pair helping out with housing and employment issues.
The chairwoman said that county employees try their best to respond to constituent emails and follow up. Although employees work hard, Cupid says they do not receive the appreciation they should get.
“The county did not need to take these funds,” Cupid said. “The board elected to do it to help residents. There has never been a ‘thank you’ for that. Not one.”
“Somebody said well as commissioners, we don’t want to see you fail, you’re all women up there,” Cupid said. “I said we are failing. Because to see this type of disconnect when I see the most responsive board I’ve seen over the eight years be more interested in helping these issues than any other administration and to see what they get compared to other people? That’s a failure to me. Because they’re working too hard and they care too much.”
She said residents with personal and community concerns can go to the chairwoman’s office or call her on Thursday afternoons to walk through the steps needed to rectify their situation.
Cupid stressed the importance of the community and officials working together Tuesday. She said problems will only get solved through unity and respecting one another.
“So if you’re a leader and you hear this tonight and you want to be involved in this, please find me, call me, email me,” she said. “My information is already out there. We will set up a meeting. … Let’s knock this out together because I believe we can do more together than we can do working against each other.”
Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She also freelances for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and is the former president of KSU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as well as a former CNN intern. She enjoys music, reading, and live shows.