Gwinnett County officials were able to use $6 million in federal stimulus funds to help prevent more than 1,300 possible evictions from happening during the first round of Project Reset, a program designed to help people affected financially by the COVID-19 pandemic with emergency rental assistance.
That resulted in 3,791 Gwinnettians staying housed even though they were struggling financially due to the pandemic’s economic impact, county officials said. Officials expect to dwarf that number, however, with $28.1 million in stimulus funds lined up for the second round of the program, called Project Reset 2.0, which will provide up to 15 months of rental and utility assistance as opposed to the six months of assistance that the first round provided.
How many more will be helped, however, will depend on the requests that come in.
“With the inclusion of utility arrears and Internet services, that’s a variable that I can’t quantify at the moment,” HomeFirst Gwinnett Director Matt Elder said. “We’re going to help more people obviously with a lot more money, but I wouldn’t be able to put a number on it for you.”
Elder joined Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson and Commission Vice-Chairwoman Marlene Fosque on Tuesday to announce applications are now being taken for Project Reset 2.0.
Elder, Fosque and Gwinnett Chief Magistrate Kristina Hammer Blum created Project Reset last year to help people avoid eviction at a time when businesses were closing for a time or reducing staff as they were hit by the pandemic’s impact on the economy.
“We hope that this expansion of the Project Reset 2.0 program will help those who are facing housing instability as well as those who may have fallen behind on their utility payments,” Fosque said. “We all know that electricity, water, gas and internet access are truly essential for everyday living.”
Elder said the program was designed to be a way for officials to intervene on behalf of families who are struggling financially to prevent them from becoming homeless because of the pandemic. This includes families where the breadwinner just lost their job and are just starting to get behind on rent and utilities, as well as families that got so far behind that eviction proceedings are being sought in the courts.
The program pays landlords and utility providers directly on behalf of residents.
“COVID-19 has attacked our community indiscriminately and we needed a response type that is indiscriminate and robust in how it came after the problem as well,” he said.
“There are millions of dollars that have been invested into this program thus far and with this $28.1 million, we’re not only going to be able to continue to address the rental arrears issues in the community, but also address issues in regards to utilities assistance and arrears so people’s lights and water stay on, deal with internet assistance so that children who still don’t feel safe returning to school next year can maintain digital learning and parents may need the internet to search for jobs.”
Elder added that language assistance will be provided to help residents who speak Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese and two Chinese dialects, using a vendor procured by the county. He also said the county and HomeFirst Gwinnett are working with community providers to obtain language assistance for residents who need it.
Hendrickson said county officials are excited that the latest version of the program expands on the original version with longer periods of assistance available. In addition to paying rent and utility arrears, the funding can be used to cover current and future payments for residents in need.
Hendrickson said, to qualify for assistance, applicants must: be a renter in Gwinnett County; their household income must equal or be less than 80% of the area median income; must have qualified for unemployment benefits or experienced a reduction in household income; and experienced significant financial hardship because of the pandemic.
Households where the income is at or less than 50% of the area median income, or where at least one person has been unemployed for at least 90 days, will be prioritized for assistance, the commission chairwoman said.
“These criteria will help to ensure that assistance is given to those who need it the most, and we want to let Gwinnett residents know that we are here to help,” Hendrickson said.
Residents and landlords can visit GCGA.us/RentalAssistance to access the application portal. They can also call a newly established call center at 770-822-7501 for assistance with the application process, including seeking help applying for the funding if they do not have internet access.