Ga. aid agency launches new program even as old one ails

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Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 5:26 PM EST
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ATLANTA (WGCL/WRDW) - A Georgia agency is launching a mortgage assistance program even though its rental assistance program has left applicants hanging, distributing only 13% of the fund meant to help people.

The state Department of Community Affairs this week launched the Georgia Homeowner Assistance Fund, a $354 million stimulus fund designed to help homeowners with mortgage delinquencies, defaults, foreclosures and past-due utilities. It’s all part of a nationwide allocation of $9.9 billion through the American Rescue Plan.

Georgia homeowners can visit to apply.

But the rollout comes as thousands of Georgians are still waiting for the agency to distribute $552 million in emergency rental assistance for low-income households in danger of eviction.

Kamaria Jackson of Atlanta and Kristi Cook of Savannah share similar stories.

Cook lost her job and Jackson wasn’t getting a lot of work.

The fell behind on rent, as did Deondre Earsery of Atlanta.

That’s why all three were excited when they found out about the state’s rental assistance program through Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs, or DCA.

All applied, but four months later, none had received assistance.

After CBS46 Investigates got involved, Earsery and Cook tell us their applications were approved. They’ve not yet received the funds.

The CBS46 investigation also revealed 44,000 tenants in Georgia had applied for state assistance through the DCA. Roughly 10,000 of them had received assistance.

When CBS46 Investigates asked how many applications had been rejected and how many were still under review, a DCA spokesperson said, “Our team is processing applications and disbursing payments on a daily basis.” They went on to say that they are disbursing financial assistance “within all federal guidelines.”

Kamaria Jackson, Deondre Earsery, Kristi Cook
Kamaria Jackson, Deondre Earsery, Kristi Cook(CBS46)

DCA’s social media team continues making posts to Instagram that say things like: “Do you need help paying for rent and utilities?” and “Begin your application today!”

“The fact that they have this social media team making posts every day, it’s like you guys are making posts but no one’s reaching out to the clients to say ‘Hey, you’ve been approved or no, you’ve been denied,’” Jackson said. “It’s frustrating.”

“What is your biggest fear?” CBS46 investigative reporter Rachel Polansky asked Earsery.

“Being evicted,” said Earsery.

Earsery called DCA to get a status on his application.

CBS46 listened to an operator tell him she could not process applications or even access his account.

“Oh, my, wow,” Earsery said to the operator.

She also said if she were him, she’d look for assistance elsewhere.

“Oh, wow and you’re being paid to tell me this,” Earsery said to the operator.

When CBS46 Investigates asked DCA about the backlog of applications, a DCA spokesperson said: “Each applicant’s case is different. Applications are generally delayed because of a lack of verifiable and complete information packages.”

“Clearly the assistance still isn’t getting out where it’s needed,” said Michael Lucas, deputy director of Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation.

Lucas says DCA should be acting with more urgency, although Lucas said the agency recently submitted an improvement plan.

“I believe there are lots of applicants who are eligible, but really struggle to prove it and provide that paperwork,” Lucas added. “There is more they can do in terms of staffing and application assistance, and phone bank assistance to help folks.”

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