Plans to help Louisianians pay rent can’t keep up with the immense need

Even the most optimistic initiatives fall hundreds of millions of dollars short of what is needed

“Families for Families,” a new initiative launched by the city of New Orleans, HousingNOLA, New Corp and Hancock Whitney Bank is looking to raise money from individuals and corporate donors who are motivated to help struggling New Orleans families avoid eviction during the ongoing pandemic. Organizers hope to raise $6 million, which they say, will keep 4,000 New Orleans families on the brink of eviction in their homes for a year.

“New Orleanians are strong, and we come together to help one another in times of need,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a press release announcing the initiative. “Our community has proved that in the past, and we will continue to do that.”

But even if the fundraising effort is as successful as organizers hope and 4,000 families are spared eviction, the $6 million raised won’t be nearly enough to help all — or even most — of the people who need help to stay in their homes. In Louisiana, 289,000 households are at risk of eviction through the pandemic, up to 56% of households in the state, the second most in the country.

Andreanecia Morris, executive director of HousingNOLA, said $6 million would only help twelve percent of the New Orleans families that need rental assistance. The initiative, she said, isn’t meant to solve the problem, but to supplement other solutions.

“The problem has to be solved by our local leaders, state government officials and federal legislators who are ignoring this issue and need to get their act together,” Morris said. “We should still be doing this as a community as a complement to the investment by our public funds.”

Families for Families isn’t the first program that has been implemented to help people pay their rent. The Finance Authority of New Orleans established a “Community Support Fund” to “help Orleans Parish residents who qualify with rent or utility assistance in the wake of the pandemic.” However, the maximum rental assistance benefit amount is $500 per household, far less than the $18,000  (or $1,500 a month) that a family might need to avoid eviction for a year, Morris said.Last month, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced the Louisiana Emergency Rental Assistance Program that he said would help about 10,000 people in Louisiana who are struggling to pay rent because of the economic hardship caused by the pandemic.  But 40,000 Louisianians applied within three days, and the application process was suspended.

All of those efforts combined have produced an amount of rental assistance several hundreds of millions of dollars short of what’s needed to keep Louisiana renters housed.

“While every dollar helps, state and local rental assistance programs are not even close to meeting the need,” said Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center. “In Louisiana alone, nearly $500 million is needed to keep families housed.”

“The response to our state’s emergency rental assistance program proves how significant the economic burden of COVID-19 is for our citizens,” Gov. Edwards said in a written statement after the state’s rental assistance program was quickly overwhelmed.  “This program was designed to help mitigate and off-set evictions and homelessness, and while we have allocated an additional $17 million for a total of $24 million in federal assistance, we know that much more is needed to address this serious crisis for the hard-working men and women who continue to keep our state going during this crisis.”

According to the press release announcing the Families for Families initiative, a few big donations have already been made.  The Greater New Orleans Foundation has contributed $100,000; Hancock Whitney $25,000 and New Corp. $2,500.

Others looking to donate can do so at the following link: https://donorbox.org/housingnolaf4f