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Clarkston considers eviction diversion program

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Clarkston considers eviction diversion program

Clarkston City Hall. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Clarkston, GA — The Clarkston city council will consider using $100,000 of the city’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act money for an eviction diversion program through DeKalb Pro Bono.

The Public Safety and Legal Standing Advisory Committee voted to recommend the plan to the full council, and it should be on the agenda for the council’s work session May 30.

Committee chair and council member YT Bell said that the idea came about because of a growing problem with code violations and apartments not being kept up to the standard required by law. Residents are often afraid to complain because they fear retaliatory eviction.

That fear is justified, according to DeKalb Pro Bono Executive Director Annie Jordan, who said that evictions are becoming more of a first response rather than a last resort.

“Landlords are filing evictions not only when it’s not necessary but when it’s not even legal,” Jordan said.

Due to a housing shortage in the entire Atlanta region, landlords have no problem filling any vacancies. However, a tenant with an eviction on their record is very unlikely to be able to find housing.

Georgia only recently made retaliatory evictions illegal, Jordan said, adding that both landlords and tenants have legal obligations to each other, but landlords are usually better informed and better able to enforce their rights. 

DeKalb Pro Bono conducts “know your rights” clinics as well as offering individuals help with understanding their rights and with legal representation. The organization offers free initial consultations for those who meet residency and income requirements, to determine whether DeKalb Pro Bono can help with the case.

Jordan said that the organization cannot help with evictions based simply on non-payment of rent. “The law is very clear on that, and it would be a waste of resources,” Jordan said.

Jordan also added that DeKalb Pro Bono does not handle Housing and Urban Development cases, as the rules for those are different and there is another organization in DeKalb that handles those cases.

In response to a question from Vice Chair and Councilmember Awet Eyasu, Bell clarified that the program would be an allowed use of ARPA funds and that she got the idea from other cities running similar programs.

Eyasu asked about Clarkston’s code enforcement process. Bell responded that the problem was that when the city cites code violations, landlords frequently did not carry out mandated repairs. 

“I would like to see more consequences for that,” Eyasu said. 

Council member Jamie Carroll said that meanwhile, the prospect of litigation might motivate landlords to correct unhealthy conditions. 

“A mold lawsuit is a lot more threatening than a citation,” Carroll said.

Eyasu requested that Jordan provide data about how many Clarkston residents DeKalb Pro Bono has assisted in the past.

The committee passed a motion to recommend the allocation of $100,000 to an eviction diversion program, with the understanding that the rate will be $500 per case. Applicants must be Clarkston residents whose income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.

Jordan said that DPB’s normal income threshold is 175% of the federal poverty level, but that she recommended raising it to 200% because inflation is outpacing the federal income rules. 

The proposal will likely go to the full council at their work session on May 30.

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