COBB COUNTY, Ga. — On Oct. 31, the Cobb County Board of Commissioners announced efforts to create a new court program focused on handling the eviction crisis sweeping through the Atlanta area.
Using $1.3 million from the federal Emergency Rental Assistance funding provided to the county, Cobb will create what they’re calling a Housing Stability Court.
“We’re incredibly excited about the program. We’ve been charged with bridging the gap to the future,” said Cobb’s Chief Magistrate Brendan Murphy. “This will bring resources to bear so folks can lift their families to a better situation.”
According to county officials, the new Housing Stability Court will work with the Center for Family Resources in Marietta.
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Relief for the area’s housing needs couldn’t come at a better time.
In October alone, there were 1,993 evictions filed in Cobb County, according to the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank’s regional eviction tracker.
The tracker covers county-by-county and regional eviction numbers for Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties, tracking eviction numbers all the way back to 2019.
An October 2022 Cobb County report published by the Atlanta Regional Commission showed critical housing market trends would impact the county through smaller households, larger homes, and an increased need for rental options.
Specifically, the report said that housing and rental costs “are drastically increasing, while salaries are to keeping trend,” causing the cost burden of county families and households to rise.
A cost-burdened family spends more than 30% of its monthly income on housing and utilities. As of 2010, 9% of Cobb households were cost-burdened. That number grew to 27% in 2020, according to ARC.
Affordability concerns when it comes to housing are spread out across both renters and homeowners.
Economic data from the Federal Reserve assigns what’s known as a Home Ownership Affordability Monitor ranking to show if a county is affordable or not. The designation is based on a score range with 100 in the middle, and going above or below to determine affordability.
Cobb’s latest score, as of Oct. 17, was 78.7, putting it nearly 23 points below the 100 “affordable” midpoint.
It’s not a problem restricted to Cobb County or even the metro Atlanta area.
Housing costs have continued to rise, both from prices of homes themselves and rental costs, as well as an almost ever-increasing mortgage rate since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The cost of shelter is the largest cause of inflation most months, according to Consumer Price Index reports by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Sometimes, housing is the second largest contributor to inflation, on the occasion that gasoline and energy prices overtake it for the month-to-month change of inflation rate.
While the report for October inflation has not been released yet, the most recent one covering September showed the shelter index was the largest contributor to monthly price increases in the United States.
“The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.3% in September, as it did in August. The shelter index increased 0.6% in September, after rising 0.3% the previous month. The index for rent rose 0.5% in September, and the index for owners’ equivalent rent increased 0.6% over the month,” BLS reported.
For owners, that’s thanks to mortgage prices going up, which impacts those buying houses, rather than those already with a mortgage.
The most recent mortgage rate reported by the federally-backed Freddie Mac was 7.76% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. Rates have hovered around 7% to nearly 8% since August.
What this means is that buying a home, already an expensive endeavor, is more expensive due to the monthly interest rates. At the same time, rental prices have stayed elevated, though not as high as in months past.
High rental costs contribute to evictions, though, as a result of lack of payment, though it’s not the only reason for an eviction. A backlog of eviction cases has also caused delays, meaning renters who are being evicted for lack of payment remain at their apartments in some cases due to the court proceedings, putting landlords on the hook for costs in some instances.
Since January, 122,748 evictions have been filed in the 5-county Atlanta area tracked by the Federal Reserve. Almost 19,000 were just in Cobb County.
The Housing Stability Court, as announced by county officials, does not have a way for individuals in need to apply for assistance. Instead, it uses a referral system from the Magistrate Court of Cobb County.
The Board of Commissioners said the court “will crank up in the coming weeks,” after announcing the program’s formation.
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