At a Forsyth County Board of Commissioners work session on Tuesday, Feb. 23, the board voted to accept the Emergency Rental Assistance Program funding of more than $7 million.
Commissioners also voted to approve the program resolution, budget resolution and nonprofit memorandums of understanding with room for modification from County Attorney Ken Jarrard. The items were all approved with a unanimous vote, 5-0.
Rebecca Whitmire, director of the county’s finance department, told the board ERAP distributes $25 billion nationwide to help households struggling to pay rent and utility costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Forsyth County is one of the 11 direct recipients in Georgia to participate in the program.
The Forsyth County government will be partnering with two nonprofits, United Way of Forsyth and The Place of Forsyth, to distribute the funds to landlords and utility companies.
“We are very excited to see the county accept the ERAP funding,” said Joni Smith, CEO and president of The Place. “This is very helpful to our residents that have been struggling with rent and utilities. We are eager to get started processing the requests.”
Eligibility for funding includes residents that qualify for unemployment benefits, have experienced a reduction in household income due to the pandemic, are at risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability and have a household income at or below 80% of the Area Median Income, or AMI. The AMI for Forsyth County is estimated to be around $112,189.
“There are many of our renters in difficult financial situations due to circumstances caused by the pandemic,” said Ruth Goode, executive director of United Way. “We believe this funding is crucial to help keep families in their homes. There is also a high level of stress and anxiety with many folks because of their inability to catch up on bills. [The funding] will help those landlords who have mounting bills as well.”
Applications will be reviewed to confirm that all requirements have been met and that necessary documentation has been provided. Final review will be processed by the Forsyth County Department of Finance before funds are distributed. Funds will “only” be awarded to landlords and utility companies.
The funding is also not applicable to individuals with mortgages, only residential renters in the county, which are estimated to be around 12,000 residents.
Guidelines for the funding distribution are still being sent to participating counties, according to Whitmire.
“We’re used to dealing with federal awards,” Whitmire said. “There’s the uniform guidance from a procurement perspective, there’s security that we need to comply with. It’s going to be interesting on the back end of this, but we’re trying to do everything that we know to do.”
Chairwoman Cindy Jones Mills, who represents District 4, and District 2 Commissioner Alfred John expressed concerns about fraudulent documentation on behalf of renters or landlords.
“All of the documents that we have to collect, and we currently do that now, … [include] forms of identity, … a lease from the landlord,” Goode said. “All of those documents can be uploaded into our Charity Tracker system …. There will be a number of certifications.”
Goode said that residents applying for funding will need to sign an affidavit.
“Our responsibility first and foremost is to comply with the grant requirements and in doing that, we’ll do everything we can to check to make sure that required documentation is there and to the extent, … we will try to avoid any fraud or circumventing,” Whitmire said.
The funding program in Forsyth County is expected to go live on Monday, March 8. The county’s community outreach program will also send information to all media outlets with Title VI Limited English Proficiency, LEP, languages to include Spanish, Hindi, Korean and Simplified Chinese.
“In my opinion, this funding can be a major reset for families that have been affected by COVID -19 through financial setbacks,” Smith said. “The Place has been a financial assistance support for residents for many years and ERAP funds will enable us to reach more people. The Board of Commissioners should be recognized for their commitment to assist our residents.”
To learn more about the ERAP funding, or to see if you are eligible to receive funding, visit bit.ly/3pKzYk0. To learn about Forsyth County's Rent & Utility Relief Program, please visit forsythco.com/rentrelief.