Sharp critiques from housing advocates after suspended rental assistance program

Updated: Jul. 19, 2020 at 7:53 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - After only four days, the state has temporarily suspended the newly-launched rental assistance program. More than 40,000 renters across the state flooded the application, and housing advocates say they knew from the start it wasn’t going to be enough.

With $24 million at stake, and nearly 146,000 Louisiana households needing rental assistance, HousingNOLA’s Andreanecia Morris says the numbers were never going to work.

“You do the math on 24 million x 146 thousand that’s less than $200 a household so that was never going to help the minimum,” said Morris.

Now, after four days and more than 40,000 renters applying for help, the state temporarily suspended the program.

“We were just urging everyone to be cautiously optimistic and really manage their expectations that this was nowhere near enough money for the need and that we are going to have to go back and demand more,” said Morris.

A first-come, first-serve program, Morris says it was wholly inadequate from the start. She says other requirements like an income cap meant many struggling renters couldn’t even qualify.

“And what that represents in the state of Louisiana is for a household of one, $13,000, all the way up to $25,000 for households of four or more,” said Keith Cunningham, Louisiana Housing Corporation.

In practice, the state is to pay landlords directly on behalf of the approved applicants. Tammy Esponge with the Apartment Association of New Orleans says of those in her network, many property owners are still waiting to hear back on applications, or have given up altogether.

“He actually put it on his website and then took it right back off because he’s like my residence they can’t even apply for this because they don’t meet income requirements,” said Esponge.

Morris and Esponge say their advice to renters and landlords respectively is to sign up for notification when the program re-opens. But if more is not done in the way of rental relief, they say it will mean more families without a home, in the middle of a shelter-at-home order.

“As we go backwards with some of the restrictions because of the surge, why aren’t we doing everything that is necessary to make sure our folks can ride this catastrophe out,” said Morris.

Both Morris and Esponge say the program is a good start, and hope to continue working with the state to improve it.

LHC’s executive director, Keith Cunningham Jr. said, “We are committed to doing everything we can to meet the needs of renters and landlords and are hopeful that additional federal dollars will become available as soon as possible.”

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