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After Hundreds in New Orleans Line Up For Housing Aid, Some Are Still Without Rent

Hundreds of New Orleanians stood in line outside a gymnasium in New Orleans East to receive rental assistance from a program that couldn't disperse any money on Aug. 10, 2021.
Ryan Nelsen / WWNO
Hundreds of New Orleanians stood in line outside a gymnasium in New Orleans East to receive rental assistance from a program that couldn't disperse any money on Aug. 10, 2021.

With the threat of eviction looming, hundreds of New Orleanians braved long lines, scorching heat and bureaucratic red tape earlier this month in hopes of finding financial relief from the city.

Last Tuesday, a three-day event kicked off and attempted to pre-approve renters for money. An early morning line formed outside of a gymnasium in New Orleans East, showing the high demand for rental assistance in the city.

Before 10 a.m., the heat index reached 102 degrees and applicants swatted away mosquitoes. Most questioned why they had to drive to New Orleans East to get approval from a program that couldn’t actually disperse any money. Some chose to leave the line.

The city’s Rental Assistance Program is geared toward helping those late on rent payments continue to live in their current property to help stop the spread of COVID. With concern among housing experts growing about the wave of people who could be kicked out of their apartments and homes, the federal government also extended the federal moratorium on evictions for another two months.

"We were thrilled to hear about the extension because we have hundreds of clients who are maybe back to work now but unable to pay off these massive rent arrears from the pandemic and are still waiting in the pipeline for rental assistance," said Hannah Adams, a housing attorney for Southeast Louisiana Legal Services.

However, Adams is worried the two-month extension won't last due to several legal challenges.

Moratorium Extension In Limbo

A Supreme Court decision in June decided the moratorium on evictions could stay in place, but in Justice Brett Kavanagh's opinion, the extension needed congressional approval, which the new extension did not get.

At the beginning of August, the CDC postponed landlords' ability to evict tenants for another two months, giving time for municipalities to release federal funding granted toward helping renters and landlords.

The delay from the CDC only applies to counties with high rates of COVID-19 transmission, equating to more than 50 cases per 100,000 residents. All 64 parishes in Louisiana are listed as being at the "highest risk."

Marjorianna Willman, the city's Housing Director, said Tuesday that all the program's funds had been dispersed. However, the city is asking the state for the funding that was sent to parishes that weren't using their full allotment.

In March, Louisiana received $309 million in a federal pandemic relief package to assist renters and landlords, and the state was also given an additional $244 million from the American Rescue Act.

A Program Without Funds

Officials said it's easier to communicate face to face at their rental assistance events with applicants who might be missing documents to complete the application. But it has slowed down the process for many.

Some applicants, like Latonya Kemp, say they filled the forms out on their phone because they lack computers and internet at home.

Eva Rosen, a professor at Georgetown University's School of Public Policy, said circumstances like that leave people more exposed to being displaced.

"If you look at any pre-existing inequalities that we have, whether there are racial inequalities... the undocumented, gender inequalities, all of these groups tend to be more susceptible to eviction," said Rosen. "Then, when you bring the pandemic in, all of it gets exacerbated."

Kemp's landlord received a large sum of money from the program to keep her housed through the pandemic so far, but now her landlord has recently raised her rent to $800. While she can't return to her job of working for Walmart because of a hip replacement surgery, her disability only covers $700, and she's asking the program for help.

Kemp took two buses from the Lower Ninth Ward to attend the event and was hoping the assistance would go directly to her this time to find a new apartment. Her current home has leaks in the roof, rodents and her landlord does not mow the backyard.

Delaney Nolan attended the event but didn't qualify because she cannot prove she is behind on rent. When Nolan's job as a telehealth specialist was furloughed last year, she began looking for any assistance she could find. Instead of falling behind on rent, Nolan took out credit cards to pay her landlord.

"The whole thing is, I could have really used rental assistance when I applied five and half months ago," said Nolan. "It's like, I was drowning, and they said they were going to send out a lifeboat five months later."

"It's like, eventually we're going to pull you up, but we also need to prove there is water in your lungs."

As the delta variant surges through Louisiana, the threat of eviction increases public health worries. A recent study by the University of California Los Angeles showed that evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic increased the spread of the viral threat fivefold.

Frank Southall of Jane Place Sustainability Initiative told the City Council last Tuesday that when he gets calls from people who are being evicted, the majority of the time they plan to move in with an elderly relative, which is not ideal in a pandemic.

With no more funds to distribute, the event’s attendees instead received a letter to give to their landlords to delay evictions until the moratorium’s extension ends on October 3.

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