Rental assistance in COVID-19 relief package ‘about a third of what Louisiana actually needs,’ says housing advocacy group

CDC eviction moratorium set to expire by the end of January

In early July, Virginia courts had a backlog of more than 12,000 eviction cases as a statewide moratorium expired, with many judges apparently declining a last-minute request from Gov. Ralph Northam to continue the stay at the local level. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

The COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress at the end of 2020 extended rental assistance to people struggling to stay in their homes during the economic crisis, but Louisiana housing advocates say the $309 million allocated to Louisiana is not nearly enough to meet  Louisiana’s immense need.

“I think the amount that is allocated to Louisiana is about a third of what Louisiana actually needs,” said Leigh Rachal, executive director of the Acadiana Regional Coalition on Homelessness & Housing. “So it will be critical the state moves forward in a very strategic way to ensure that the distribution is equitable and ensure that it goes to those most vulnerable and most in need.”

Rachal said Monday that she hopes when Joe Biden becomes president, his administration immediately extends the Center of Disease and Prevention Control’s moratorium against evictions. “Our advocacy efforts are aimed in that direction at this point,” Rachal said.

The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease and Prevention Control, was set to expire at the end of 2020.  It is now set to expire at the end of this month.  That 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.”

But extending the moratorium is a separate issue, Rachal said, from the extra money that needs to be added to the program Congress funded in December providing assistance for landlords and renters.

In August, Cashauna Hill, executive director of The Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, said Louisiana needed $500 million to keep families housed throughout the pandemic. The need has only grown since then, she said Monday.

“We know that rent only goes up with each passing month. So the number that was $500 million — it’s logical to assume now that number is much higher.”

“We will continue to push for the resources we all need to safely stay in our homes throughout this pandemic,” Hill said.

One way to keep as many Louisianans in their homes as possible, Hill said, is for the governor and local officials to make sure rental assistance gets into the hands of renters and landlords quickly. The state’s previous rental assistance programs required renters to jump through too many bureaucratic hoops, she said, which is unreasonable to expect for renters with potential eviction looming over their heads.

Shauna Sanford, communications director for the governor’s office, said they’re in the process of going through the most recent guidance provided by the U.S. Department of Treasury, on handling rental assistance, but are still awaiting final program guidelines.

“If we get to a point where landlords and renters can’t apply and receive assistance before the eviction moratorium ends,” Hill said, “then we fully expect to see more families experiencing homelessness, more families doubled up.”