BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Officials are preparing for the worst. Housing assistance funds are dwindling as Democrats and Republicans refuse to budge from their opposing stances on funding President Donald Trump’s border wall.
The longest government shutdown in history threatens to leave Louisiana’s at-risk residents scrambling to scrape together money for rent normally paid for by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The Housing Authority of East Baton Rouge Parish (EBRPHA) sent out letters Friday, Jan. 18 advising local landlords of the required procedures for evicting tenants who would be unable to afford rent in March. A spokesperson for EBRPHA says the letters were issued “as a precaution.”
In the letter, EBRPHA explains funding for the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program, commonly known as Section 8, would continue through February, but beyond that, HUD has signaled it will be unable to continue footing the bill. The full letter can be read below.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the federal agency that funds the Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) program. HUD is one of the federal agencies directly impacted by the partial government shutdown.
HUD has enough money to ensure that February payments for the Section 8 program will be made timely. If the government shutdown continues past February, HUD has indicated that there is not currently enough money to make payments past February 2019. Hopefully, the government shutdown will end prior to this.
If the shutdown continues past February, this will be the first time the government shutdown has directly impacted HUD’s ability to make timely payments. We do not know how long the shutdown will last. As this has never happened before, presumably HUD will release any past due payments once the government reopens.
While not everyone is in the financial position to absorb the impact of a late payment, we appreciate your patience with the funding delay. We ask that you do not evict tenants for the government’s failure to make a timely payment during the shutdown. If you choose to evict, you must provide our office with a copy of the 5-day notice. Tenants must not move unless they have been ordered to do so by a Judge or Justice of Peace (through court order). If the tenant receives a 5-day notice to vacate, s/he should immediately contact their designated Social Service Analyst.
The Housing Authority does not yet anticipate any changes in normal business operations. We will keep you posted on any changes as they occur.
The letter was sent to 3,505 HCV families and EBRPHA’s 1,500 rental property owners who participate in the program. More than 1,100 of EBRPHA’s HCV residents are elderly, disabled, or both.
A letter previously sent directly from HUD to landlords Friday, Jan. 4 instructed them to access reserve funding, where available, to cover any shortfalls. The move was a last ditch effort to prevent evictions until HUD is able to pull together funding.
Hoping to leverage its relationships with landlords, EBRPHA says it’s taking a “proactive approach” to protect residents.
“EBRPHA has a great, long-term working relationship with our HCV property owners. While there is no guarantee of a prompt resolution in Washington, D.C., we do not anticipate negative reactions by our partners/owners resulting in the cancellation of their Housing Assistance Payment contracts or an eviction on their tenants because of delayed payments from the federally-subsidized portion of the rent. HCV owners will continue to collect the residents’ portion of rent,” said J. Wesley Daniels Jr., acting CEO of EBRPHA. “In the spirit of partnership and the mutual benefits of the Housing Choice Voucher program, our highly-valued owners, residents, and EBRPHA team members are vigilant and remain committed to providing quality housing opportunities throughout the community."
HUD previously told WAFB it has never experienced permanent evictions related to a government shutdown, a statement supported by Daniels.
“Presumably, HUD will release any past due payments once the government reopens,” Daniels said.
Daniels noted the HUD headquarters in Washington, D.C., HUD New Orleans Field Office, and EBRPHA remain in communication, despite the shutdown.
A majority of HUD’s 7,500 employees have been furloughed without pay, according to HUD’s contingency plan. That means employees are unavailable, and in fact, prohibited from doing any work, including responding to phone calls or emails. Additionally, many of HUD’s welfare responsibilities have been suspended, including health and safety inspections at HUD-sponsored housing.
The remaining staff members are only available to manage emergency situations that pose “an imminent threat to the safety of human life or the protection of property.” That includes housing and emergency services for the homeless, according to HUD’s contingency plan.
EBRPHA is urging all residents to continue to fulfill their contract leasing obligations and continue to make their payments in a timely fashion. HCV residents may call 225-923-8100 if they have any questions or require assistance. HCV owners and residents will be notified of any events or updates affecting the program, in writing. In addition, EBRPHA will post updates on their website, ebrpha.org.