City DopeNews

Commission Approves Eviction Prevention Program

The Athens-Clarke County Commission voted last week to give an inexperienced nonprofit a potentially multi-million dollar contract to start an eviction prevention program.

The commission voted at a called meeting Oct. 19 to award a contract to Athenian First Development Corp., the sole applicant, against the recommendation of the ACC Housing and Community Development Department. After a vote to table the contract earlier this month, a risk assessment raised concerns about the nonprofit’s lack of experience, according to ACC Manager Blaine Williams. The AFDC was founded last year as an affordable housing developer and has never been involved in social services.

But a majority of commissioners said they were comfortable with AFDC after meeting with them, and wanted to move forward rather than delay the program further. “It’s definitely a dire situation for us to move forward, to be preventing evictions that are happening in this community,” Commissioner Tim Denson said.

Putting the contract out for bid again would delay the start of the program until February. “To me, we just can’t wait that long, and there are a number of families that can’t wait that long,” Denson said.

The timeline was rushed, and there were barriers to submitting proposals, said Commissioner Allison Wright, who made a failed motion to issue a revised request for proposals and was the only commissioner to vote against the contract. But there is no guarantee another RFP would turn up additional applicants, other commissioners said.

“We really needed to act on this months ago, and while it might not be the ideal way to get here, I feel good enough about AFDC’s application,” Commissioner Jesse Houle said.

The eviction program will be based on Project Reset in Gwinnett County, which is run by a nonprofit working with the magistrate court there. For tenants who have been unable to pay rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic and are facing eviction, the program will pay up to 95% of their back rent in exchange for the landlord allowing them to stay in their homes.

Funding for the program will come from the federal American Rescue Plan. The original proposal called for $3.85 million—$3.5 million for rent relief and $350,000 for administration—but the commission also voted to authorize staff to renegotiate the scope and budget. A revised contract is scheduled to come up for a vote at the commission’s Nov. 2 meeting.

Also at the Nov. 2 meeting, the commission is expected to waive some fees at downtown parking decks in an effort to keep Clayton Street businesses afloat during a construction project to replace old pipes and widen sidewalks that won’t wrap up until next spring. Instead of 30 minutes, parking will be free for two hours at the West Washington Street, College Avenue and courthouse parking decks through Christmas Eve, and for one hour from Dec. 26 until the project is completed. That will cost the county an estimated $15,000 in parking revenue. The item was placed on the consent agenda, meaning it is likely to pass unanimously with no discussion.

Two new boards that have been under discussion for several years are also on the agenda for next week’s voting meeting. One is a Human Relations Commission that will advise the mayor and commission on policies involving diversity and inclusion, and work with residents and the county attorney’s office to file and investigate complaints about violations of the newly passed discrimination ordinance. The other is a Public Safety Civilian Oversight Board with the power to investigate complaints of police misconduct, as well as recommending policy reforms and sanctions against individual officers.

In addition, the commission will vote on changes to plans for the Southern Mill development off Oneta Street to include a larger hotel and a theater in the development. The changes were unanimously recommended for approval by the planning commission.