Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan and other city officials were taken aback on Thursday evening, Jan. 6, when Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston launched into a tirade at a commissioners meeting.
Alston’s harsh comments were based on his belief that the City of Greensboro was dragging its feet when it came to putting $10 million of county-provided money to use helping keep local residents from getting evicted during the pandemic.
The question involved $10 million in federal relief funding that came to Guilford County. The county fronted the city $2 million of that $10 million for the city to work with community groups to help financially challenged individuals and families on the verge of eviction. Under the guidelines for the remaining $8 million, the city would spend its own funds for eviction prevention and then get reimbursed by the county.
Local organizations that fight homelessness in the community work with the City of Greensboro using the funds to do things like pay rent and utility bills for struggling families or offer other aid to keep them from becoming homeless. Those in need can apply for the rent assistance and get it if they qualify.
Vaughan said the city was using the $2 million it had already received to prevent evictions and had also spent a great deal more than that funding the effort.
“I think the partners have done a great job,” she said of the city’s partner organizations that work to prevent people from becoming homeless.
Vaughan didn’t watch the streamed virtual commissioners live. However, right after Alston tore into the city and its efforts regarding the program, the mayor was contacted by another city official and made aware of the comments.
Vaughan said county officials seemed to be under the impression that the city needed to approve a budget amendment to access the money and move forward with helping those in need.
In reality, Vaughan said, that amendment was not needed.
At the commissioners meeting, held virtually due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the county, Alston quizzed Guilford County Manager Mike Halford about the rental assistance funding program.
Alston had met, on Wednesday, Jan. 5, with some city officials and leaders of local organizations that fight homelessness.
At the commissioners meeting Alston said, “I forgot to ask them for a report yesterday whether or not they have put their money in place to go ahead and fund all of those applications that have been sitting there since July. And people are still getting evicted. And they [the City of Greensboro] haven’t requested the money like our manager asked them to do so in order to fund those vouchers.”
“We had asked them to take action on this,” Alston added.
The Greensboro City Council had met on Tuesday, Jan. 4, and wasn’t scheduled to meet for another two weeks – so Alston asked Halford if he had seen the expected budget amendment be approved.
“I did not,” Halford said. “I checked the agenda for the Tuesday meeting and did not see it on there.”
Alston said, “Because if they are not going to do what you asked them to do in order to get the $10 million that we said we would give them to fund all of those applications, then we need to figure out a way to do it ourselves. Because I guess they don’t see this as being urgent. Because you laid out the process of what they need to do in order to get the $10 million. They said they were going to do it and take action on it this past Tuesday.”
A very animated Alston continued,“If they did not then they won’t have another meeting for another two weeks and people are being evicted every day. Obviously, this is not an important issue for the city since they didn’t follow your instructions. Because people are getting evicted.”
“I’ll follow up with them,” Halford told Alston at the virtual meeting once Alston stopped speaking.
Vaughn said she wished Halford had contacted city officials after not seeing the item on the City Council’s agenda. She said that, if Halford had done so, the county would have been provided with the explanation and would have known that the money is in fact being put to use. County officials were expecting to see a budget amendment come through, but Vaughan said that actually wasn’t necessary because city staff had “found a different way to access those funds” that didn’t require a budget amendment.
Vaughan said the city has been working diligently to fund the programs and keep evictions from taking place. The mayor said the city had in fact already spent $14 million or $15 million addressing this problem.
“We’ve spent a lot more than $10 million.” Vaughan said, adding that the city was using its “savings account.”
Vaughan acknowledged that the application process of those in need can take a long time.
“Every applicant doesn’t always dot every i and cross every t,” she said, adding that often the applications have to go back and forth between provider groups and applicants several times to clear up questions regarding the information provided.