Monday, March 16, 2020

March 16, 2020 

Dear Chief Magistrate Judge Kirk and Clerk of Superior and Magistrate Court Tina Robinson, 

On Friday March 13, the Magistrate Court of Fulton County declared a Judicial Emergency in an Order and stated that the court will not hear landlord-tenant matters and that answers must be filed within 48 hours of the Order being lifted. This was shortly followed by an Order from the Supreme Court of Georgia declaring a statewide judicial emergency that will terminate on April 13, unless extended. 

On behalf of the undersigned organizations, we are asking that the Fulton County Magistrate Court take further, necessary action to prevent unnecessary escalation of the pandemic and mass displacement:

  1. Publicly confirm that tenants will not receive default judgments for failing to answer a dispossessory warrant or failing to appear in court throughout the declared Superior Court Judicial Emergency period.
    1. Stop accepting eviction filings during the declared Superior Court Judicial Emergency period, to avoid extreme backlog in the courts and mass displacement.
      1. Suspend signing of applications for writ of possession through May 10 2020, in accordance with the guidance from the CDC which recommends the cancellation of all in-person events involving 50 or more people for the next 8 weeks.
        1. Meet with the non-profit, Housing Justice League, and other agencies that work on issues of housing stability and tenants’ rights to develop plans for the period following the health crisis, in recognition that weeks of unemployment and non-payment will result in renters across the city being unable to make rent and extreme backlog in the courts. Plans would need to include public rental assistance and reasonable repayment plans for those who lost wages during the pandemic and its aftermath. 
          On Wednesday March 11 Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, issued an Administrative Order halting the termination of water services for people who fall behind on their water bills. This was an important step to addressing the crisis but it is not enough. Low-income hourly wage workers and renters will face serious financial hardship in the coming weeks and months. Our local governments must do everything within their power to protect people from financial ruin and increased risks to health. For these reasons, the undersigned organizations endorse this letter. Please respond to this letter by no later than Wednesday March 18 by 5:00 pm detailing how you will act on points 1 through 4.

          Signed by:

          Housing Justice League
          SPARK Reproductive Justice Now!
          AMPLIFY GA
          Raksha, Inc.
          BYP 100 ATL/Mecca Chapter 
          Southerners on New Ground (SONG)
          American Friends Service Committee
          Muslims for Progressive Values-Atlanta 
          Georgia Working Families Party 
          The New Georgia Project 
          Twice as Good, inc. 
          IWOC ATL
          The Come Up Project
          Gangstas to Growers
          The Southern Center for Human Rights 

          Why do we Need to Stop Evictions Now and Following the Health Crisis?

          The coronavirus is spreading rapidly throughout the United States and poses a dire threat to public health and economic security, especially for working class people who do not have the option of working from home and who are paid by the hour. Our organizations work with economically precarious communities who are not paid a living wage and live paycheck to paycheck. 

          The potential of losing housing further increases the risk to public health as it forces people to keep working. If people are to lose their housing in the midst of a public health crisis, all efforts at containment would be further compromised. The CDC currently recommends that all individuals who are diagnosed or expect a diagnosis of COVID-19 should self-quarantine for 14 days. Without emergency protections in place, Fulton County residents facing housing insecurity will be unable to afford self-quarantine. To protect the public, we must make staying at home accessible.
          Fulton County and Atlanta Public Schools are closed. At this time many parents need to be with their children and shouldn’t risk losing their housing as a result.

          At present, we do not yet know how long we may need to undertake practices of social distancing. For families that may be subject to unpaid sick leave or forced work stoppages, the front-end costs of preparation (buying food and other necessities) will deplete most of their savings, with little or nothing leftover for rent.

          If a renter loses their housing due to an eviction during the public health crisis, the direct service organizations that serve displaced persons and families will be even more burdened than they already are at this time.

          Residents experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 as they often lack access to necessary preventative measures. Mass evictions will amplify an already precarious public health crisis.