Cumberland County Commissioner Jimmy Keefe voices concerns about high administrative costs eating up a larger percentage of federal rental assistance funds in Cumberland County as Commissioner Michael Boose (left) looks on. Screenshot from meeting livestream.

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A quarter of the remaining $1.7 million in Cumberland County’s federal pandemic rental assistance will be directed toward high administrative costs, following a 4-3 vote by county commissioners Tuesday.  

Commissioners Jimmy Keefe, Charles Evans and Michael Boose voted against the action, citing concerns about the administrative costs.

Previously, 8% of the funds went toward administrative and housing stability costs. Dee Taylor, Cumberland community development director, told commissioners that those costs are mostly used to fund the wages of staff at Innovative Emergency Management Inc., a private entity with which the county has contracted to administer rental aid.

The federal government allocated that aid, for financially stressed tenants with rent unpaid due to the COVID-19 pandemic, through both the 2020 December coronavirus stimulus and last March’s American Rescue Plan.

In total, the city of Fayetteville and Cumberland County were allocated more than $18 million, though some of that money went to necessary administrative costs.

All board members approved of the program as a necessity to assist struggling tenants and landlords. At issue in the board’s vote Tuesday was how high the percentage going to cover administrative costs should be.

“I believe that 25% of $1.7 million, which is $450,000, going into administration of this program is not in the best interest and not good stewardship of this money,” Keefe said. “That’s $450,000 that could possibly help a lot of people with their rent.”

In response to Keefe’s concern, Taylor said that the increased costs are to make up for the increased demand in rental aid due to the nationwide eviction moratorium that expired last summer.

“Once the moratorium was lifted, we had an influx of applications,” Taylor said. “(Innovative Emergency Management) had to increase their staff level.”

Evans said he was concerned with continuing to fund a program that, in his view, is failing to reach renters in need in a timely manner.

“The further monies that we’re talking about getting, we want to make sure that they are given to the individuals in a timely manner, which was not done with this case, with this last contract that we had with the people that we’re dealing with now,” Evans said.

But other commissioners saw raising the portion going to administrative costs as necessary to keep the funds flowing.

Commissioner Jeannette Council, who voted in favor of the measure, said the funding is necessary to assist renters in the backlog of applications, despite the concerns with the administrative costs.

“If we had not approved this, all of those people who are in the pipeline to get money would not receive any of it,” Council said.

Ben Sessoms

Ben Sessoms is a Carolina Public Press staff writer based in Fayetteville. Send an email to bsessoms@carolinapublicpress.org to contact him.