Fulton County officials are considering how to spend $18 million in federal emergency rental assistance funds and say Sandy Springs has the largest number of vulnerable households.

The use of funds from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 was discussed Feb. 12 during a joint meeting between the Fulton County Board of Commissioners and mayors from municipalities in the county. The meeting included some questioning of the county manager’s move to avoid displaying a presentation about the program to avoid “negative” reactions.

The new Sandy Springs city logo.

Unlike previous programs funded by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the program makes the county responsible for distributing the rental assistance directly to landlords and utilities.

The county plans to have an online application available starting March 1, with an accompanying call center said Anna Roach, the county’s chief operating officer. Residents without internet access will have a chance to apply through the call center.

She said to qualify for the assistance, a household member must either qualify for unemployment or have a reduction in income as a result of COVID-19. They need to show a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability, which Roach said typically is demonstrated by unpaid rent. The last main criteria is that household income is either at or below 80% of the area median income. 

Sandy Springs has the largest number of vulnerable households due to the large renting population of 24,530 renter-occupied housing units, according to data presented during the meeting. Many of those households lost jobs or had hours cut as a result of the pandemic.

The county performed a community assessment that showed average rent is $1,300 a month. That led to a proposed $1,500 monthly cap per household. 

The officials discussed whether to offer six or 12 months of assistance.

Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker suggested offering three months of rental assistance to help more households. Only 2,400 households would be helped by providing six months of aid in county estimates.

The proposal did not include utility assistance, though the federal program allows it. Staff said that decision should be evaluated.

The public could offer its opinion on the number of months of aid, how much per household would help the most people and whether the county should use some of the funds for utility assistance.

Initially, County Manager Dick Anderson wanted to skip presentations on the program in the Feb. 12 meeting. He said that “will eliminate some of the problems” of what he called “presentations generating a negative reaction,” including “press coverage, most notably being negative…”

East Point Mayor Dianna Holiday Ingraham said she was concerned about Georgia law requiring open meetings. “How is the public going to be made aware what it is that we are discussing?” she said.

Commissioner Bob Ellis, who represents part of Sandy Springs on the commission, said that it sounded as if the county would share the presentations with the elected officials but not with the public. 

Sharing the presentations could help cut the length of time spent presenting materials during the meetings so dialog about the topic could be held and questions raised, Ellis said.

Commission Vice Chair Natalie Hall asked to get an opinion from the county attorney on what they are required to provide to the public during these open, public meetings so they do not violate the Open Records Act.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul attended the virtual meeting, but did not join the discussion.

After the meeting, Ellis said he spoke with Anderson and Nikki Peterson, clerk to the commission, to make sure that presentations for the commission’s joint meetings with county mayors were posted on the county’s website before the meetings start.

Correction: County Manager Dick Anderson’s first name was incorrect in a previous version of this article.