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 and allocated $309 million to Louisiana, but none of it has yet reached struggling renters and property owners.
The money will be distributed by the Louisiana Housing Corporation, which was created by the Louisiana Legislature in 2011 to administer federal and state housing funds.
Eddie Bynog, a spokesperson from the Louisiana Housing Corporation, said the state is awaiting further guidance from the U.S. Treasury regarding the new Emergency Rental Assistance Program, but he expects the program “will launch shortly.”
A banner at the top of LHC’s website reads: “COVID-19 EMERGENCY RENTAL ASSISTANCE TEMPORARILY SUSPENDED. SIGN UP TO RECEIVE REOPENING NOTIFICATION. “
He said the new program has been specifically designed to meet the following objectives:
- Keep people housed during the pandemic by preventing evictions for failure to pay rent
- Serve a maximum number of households as quickly as possible while prioritizing those in greatest need
- Ensure equitable geographic distribution of assistance
- Compensate landlords for unpaid rent during eviction moratoria
Bynorg said the LHC estimates that the $309 million will not be enough to serve everybody eligible for help.
Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, said when the Louisiana Housing Corporation does set up the new rental assistance program, “it’s incredibly important… that it not only meets the need, but is also easily accessible.”
“In the past, the state rental assistance efforts have been too slow to meet the needs,” Hill said. “So we’re really hoping the state doesn’t rely on really overly burdensome application processes to get people help.”
In July 2020, the Louisiana Emergency Rental Assistance Program had a budget of $24 million, and Gov. John Bel Edwards said it would help around 10,000 Louisianans. Three days later, 40,000 Louisianians had applied, and the application process was suspended.
Two months after the state’s rental assistance program ran out of money, just $115,000 of the $5.6 million meant for New Orleans had been dispersed. Hill said last month that 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.
As of Feb 5, Bynog said the Louisiana Emergency Rental Assistance Program from July 2020 has provided initial approval to 6,730 applications totaling more than $16 million, “many in the process of finalizing documentation before payments are made.” A total of 928 renters have received rental payments totaling close to $2.3 million.
“If we are going to make people go through a burdensome process to prove that they should qualify for this assistance, we are possibly going to be placing lives in jeopardy,” Hill said.
Even though there is a moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on evictions due to nonpayment of rent through March 31, Hill said the moratorium alone won’t stop all evictions because “there are far too many people who don’t even know about the moratorium” and “there’s a lot of missing information when it comes to what the moratorium is actually able to do.”
“If landlords and renters can’t receive the rental assistance quickly, then we fully expect there will be families doubled up or folks experiencing homelessness,” Hill said. “Both of those scenarios could lead to more COVID infections and deaths.”
“Getting the assistance out in a timely manner is critically important,” Hill said.