After Trump’s eviction moratorium order, Louisiana housing advocates express cautious optimism

Congress still needs to act, advocates say

In Pennsylvania, unemployed workers demanded a rent freeze — one of many such protests held across the country. (Pittsburgh Current photos by Jake Mysliwczyk)

A day after President Donald Trump’s administration announced a moratorium on evictions for the rest of the year, housing advocates in Louisiana expressed cautious optimism.  Help for renters they say is long overdue and help from Congress remains no less necessary.  There’s also the fear that landlords who are barred from kicking out tenants for nonpayment will create other reasons to get rid of them. 

Amanda Golob, housing unit managing attorney at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, said the tenants she represents have been “doing their best to manage all their bills during a pandemic and just need a little help and a little time and this moratorium does this.”  She called Monday’s announcement  exciting news.

Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, said, “If we’d had a nationwide eviction moratorium in place in March, we would have prevented thousands of Louisiana families from falling into homelessness and likely saved countless lives. “We’re grateful for the relief this will provide, but it’s a half-measure that just postpones the avalanche of evictions until after the election.”

The moratorium covers any tenant, lessee or resident of a residential property who “used best efforts to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing,” “expects to make $99,000 or less for the 2020 calendar year”  and for whom “eviction would likely render the individual homeless— or force the individual to move into and live in close quarters in a new congregate or shared living setting— because the individual has no other available housing options.”

It does not relieve people of obligations to pay rent or preclude the collection of fees, penalties or interest as the result of the failure to pay rent or make timely housing payments.

Trump’s executive order halting evictions was originally announced Aug. 9 after negotiations between congressional Democrats and Republicans for a fifth coronavirus relief bill stalled. But that order advised the Treasury Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to  “consider” whether more action to halt evictions is necessary. Tuesday’s order, which comes from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention says plainly that evictions are to be halted because the public health crisis demands it.

The order estimates that 30 to 40 million renters are at risk of eviction. “A wave of evictions on that scale would be unprecedented in modern times,” it says.

Though she said she was grateful for Tuesday’s action, Hill said that order doesn’t let lawmakers off the hook. “To keep us all in our homes for the duration of this pandemic, we also need Senator (Bill) Cassidy and Senator (John) Kennedy to get back to work on a relief bill that includes the $100 billion in emergency rental assistance already passed by the House,” she said.

Because the moratorium only halts evictions for non-payment of rent, Golob said she worries that landlords will try to get around the moratorium by citing other reasons for eviction.

“We saw this with the CARES Act covered properties and expect to see more of it,” she said. “We will see how everything goes and if this gets challenged by landlord associations or advocates.”

When asked about the eviction moratorium at his Wednesday press briefing, Gov. John Bel Edwards said his administration has to “figure out exactly how it’s going to work.” Edward said he is going to continue to advocate for federal rental assistance “so we can get those landlords paid as well.”