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Thousands wait for rental assistance but New Orleans city officials say there isn’t enough money

Published: May. 19, 2021 at 9:41 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Thousands of people in New Orleans wait to receive help through the Rental Assistance Program, but those impacted say the process is moving too slow and the city needs to be more transparent.

Isabel, a mother of three from Honduras, said she is now living life scared every day that she and her family will be turned out onto the streets because she cannot pay rent.

“I almost was evicted because I had to make rent and we were two months behind on rent. My husband was impacted by the pandemic and laid off,” she said. “I lost everything. [The landlord] nearly kicked me out of my home.”

With the CDC’s federal eviction moratorium protecting her, come June 30th when it expires-- everything could change. For now, she’s waiting in line for help through the Rental Assistance Program through the city; a line she’s been in for more than three months.

“They have millions in federal funds. I don’t understand what the hold up is,” said Rachel Taber, a volunteer with the immigrant rights organization Union Migrante. She said the local government must do more to provide resources to the people of New Orleans, especially minority communities.

“600 of 11,000 applicants you know when we have everyday people being evicted or intimidated into self-evicting. It’s not right and our city has to do more.”

The City of New Orleans is slated to receive $26 million in rental assistance, but so far they’ve only received $11.6 million from the U.S. Treasury. Marjorianna Willman, director at the Office of Housing Policy and Community Development with the city, said they should receive another $14 million from the state-- and they’re hoping it comes soon.

“We will be fortunate if we’re able to serve 3,000 people,” said Willman.

She said her office received 11,000 applications since the program rolled out in February. Since then, they’ve only been able to help about 700 families to date--adding the department has used up 40 percent of the $11.6 million in federal money.

Willman said the public’s perception of the department is that they’re just sitting on funds and ignoring all the people who have applied for the Rental Assistance Program.

“That’s not the case,” she said. “There’s just not enough resources to meet the needs of everyone. And it’s not just New Orleans. It’s throughout the country.”

She said there’s not enough money to serve everyone who applies to the program-- that’s just one of the limitations they’re experiencing. Renter rights advocates, like Taber, say the city should hire more workers to speed up the application process. Willman says anyone they hire for the program, must be paid against the funds to run the program.

Willman said they’re doing the best they can, but there are guidelines the Office of Housing Policy and Community Development must follow. For those impacted, it’s simply not enough.

“There’s a saying in Spanish ‘solo el pueblo salva el pueblo’ which is ‘only the people will save the people’,” said Taber who adds she will join the New Orleans Renters Rights Assembly on Thursday, May 20, on the steps of City Hall to make their voices heard on rental assistance needs in the city.

For Isabel, it’s simple--”We hope to make rent and stay in our homes.”

Willman said 95 percent of people assisted in the Rental Assistance Program have been minority households all living below 60 percent of the area’s median income.

Willman said her office is required to provide demographics to the U.S. Treasury quarterly. She adds they also monitor records to make sure they are hitting certain benchmarks and goals set by the program.

For more information on the Renal Assistance Program, click here.

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