COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson said he was disheartened by the news of local families at risk of being evicted in the coming weeks.
On July 6, Covington Housing Authority Executive Director Shamica Turner told the Covington City Council that when the federal moratorium on evictions runs out at the end of the month roughly 10% of the total 308 units could be evicted because they were behind on rent payments.
When Henderson heard the news, he said something needed to be done.
“I would hate to see those 30 families — those kids — to be put outside over a few dollars and cents,” Henderson told the city council Monday, July 19.
Henderson suggested taking a look at using American Rescue Plan funds, as he said surroundings cities were discussing, to help families facing potential homelessness. Though the Covington Housing Authority is not an entity of the city, Henderson also believed a “forgiveness” option should be considered for authority residents.
“I think you should look at just forgiveness of that debt,” Henderson said. “And say if you don’t start paying up after this, you can start transitioning out.”
The moratorium was first put into place in April 2020 when there was a spike in unemployment and millions of families struggled to maintain a reliable income in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than one year later, despite the wide availability of a vaccine and improving unemployment rates, Henderson said the novel virus is still impacting lives.
“We’re still in the pandemic,” he said.
Henderson said his family recently said good-bye to his sister, who died of the virus. Months before, his cousin also died of COVID-19.
He encouraged anyone who was able to get the vaccine to do so.
“It’s not over,” Henderson said.
The commissioner believed there was a way to help the families but said it could require the city and the Newton County government to join forces.
“Maybe we can work together — the city and county,” Henderson said. “I like working together … because I’ve worked [for the city of Covington] for 23 years … so if we could work together and help those families, I sure would appreciate it.”
During the time set aside for council members’ comments, Councilman Kenneth Morgan and Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams each agreed with Henderson, saying it would be a good idea for Covington to partner with the county and try to come up with ways to help.
Tucker explained to the city council July 6 that when the moratorium first went into effect, the housing authority suspended all late fees and evictions related to rent payments, but she said the moratorium didn’t mean residents didn’t have to continue paying rent.
“There should have been payments all along, and we have done payment plans, but at this point it is either pay or go,” Tucker told the council. “We are going to have to evict some people. I know that they will call you, and by the time that they call you, they will be in tears. They will be distraught and have a lot of sad stories. While we have listened and done everything that we can to make sure that people are aware of all the rules, and that they can pay their rent, sometimes there was incorrect information that they heard that said that you don’t have to pay. That is not true.”
Tucker said residents of the housing authority who suffered a reduction in income could have filed an income change request, but they needed to do that at the time it was reduced.
She said most residents receive some type of income, whether it be through work or some type of assistance program, but it isn’t a “livable wage.” However, she said residents’ rent amount was only 30% of their income, so if there was a reduction in income, the rent amount could also be lowered after submitting a change request form.
Because approximately 90% of the authority’s funding is from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Tucker said there wasn’t much more they could do.
“We have done everything that we possibly can to make sure that people throughout the pandemic could have a safe, comfortable place to call home,” she said. “The good news is that people with small balances have been catching up and turning in the paperwork as required. Unfortunately, HUD says the paperwork is only effective when you turn it in. So if you didn’t turn it in eight months ago when your income changed, you owe those eight months of rent based on what your income was then. Some of them have been lackadaisical about it all along. Some people have called and said they thought they didn’t have to pay rent, and they do. Two or three residents have not paid a dime since the moratorium started, but that’s not indicative of the majority of residents, not at all.”
It can take up to three months from when an eviction is filed before a person may actually be evicted, Tucker said.