What happens to the tenants of Lafayette at the end of the moratorium on evictions?
Nearly two-thirds of renters in Louisiana think they’re at least fairly likely to be evicted in the next two months, according to data from a US Census Bureau survey.
That number is rising for black tenants in Louisiana, nearly three-quarters of whom said they were at least fairly likely to be evicted in the next two months.
And as a moratorium on evictions, which served as a safety net for tenants during the coronavirus pandemic, comes to an end, housing advocates in Acadiana are bracing for increased needs.
The CDC’s moratorium on evictions is set to expire on July 31, which means tenants can be evicted for non-payment of rent.
“We anticipate an increase in calls from people who are either homeless or in situations where they now have to stay with family or friends – this obviously has a time limit,” said Elsa Dimitriadis, director of the operation of the Acadiana Regional Coalition. on Homelessness and Housing (ARCH).
The month-long deportation ban, which was first put in place by Congress in March 2020 but extended by the CDC under then-President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden , did not prevent evictions based on lease violations or lease expirations.
It also hasn’t eliminated rental costs, leaving many people still owing payments to their landlords, who can sue tenants for reimbursement after they are evicted.
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City court judge Doug Saloom said he did not expect a massive number of evictions, which always occur on a smaller scale in cases where leases end or tenants violate terms.
“It is my belief, after asking about this with landlords and tenants, that the numbers are unlikely to be any higher than they were before COVID,” he said, ” which represented approximately 40 to 60 expulsions per week “.
In 2016, the state as a whole had about 250 evictions per week, according to The Eviction Lab, a Princeton University project that analyzes eviction data. From 2013 to 2016, Louisiana’s deportation rate exceeded the national average.
The state was already facing housing problems before the pandemic, with more than 44% of renters in the state being classified as ‘rent encumbered’, meaning they pay more than 30% of their income for the housing, according to the Louisiana Housing Corporation.
“We believe that without continued help it will be very difficult for many households to recover,” said Eddie Bynog, director of public affairs for Louisiana Housing Corporation. “Although Louisiana’s economy is showing signs of rebounding, continued unemployment and an increase in new COVID-19 cases could slow this progress.”
Affordable housing shortage complicates recovery
The predicted increase in needs comes after Acadiana has already seen an increase in homelessness, according to data from ARCH.
Since January 2020, there has been an 82% increase in the number of homeless people. In an ARCH street survey, conducted in October, 67% of survey participants reported COVID-19 and / or loss or reduction in employment income as the cause of their homelessness.
And for people who might need temporary shelter, Acadiana is operating with a 79% decrease in accommodation capacity due to the pandemic, Dimitriadis said.
The decrease in capacity persists as Louisiana braces for a fourth wave of increased COVID-19 cases. State has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“We look forward to having ongoing conversations with our partner agencies, with local and state governments to respond to what people are seeing on the outside, but we’ve seen for some time, which is a shortage of affordable housing, ”Dimitriadis said. “And COVID has just shed some light on it and exacerbated an already existing crisis. “
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In Louisiana, to afford a two-bedroom rental home, renters would have to earn $ 17.82 an hour or work 98 hours a week for minimum wage, Dimitriadis said.
Across the state, residents are widely concerned that they will be forced to leave their homes due to an eviction.
In its most recent Household Pulse Survey, the Census Bureau found that nearly 64% of respondents said they were quite likely or very likely to have to leave their homes in the next two months due to a expulsion. Nationally, just over 49% of renters said they were at least somewhat likely to be evicted.
Renters in Louisiana have generally been more afraid of eviction than the national average. Fears of eviction peaked at over 78% in early February.
The most recent data available from the Census Bureau shows that about 15% of those polled said they had not paid rent in the last month. About 14.6% of renters nationwide said they were behind on their rent.
The most recent pulse survey – collected from June 23 to July 5 – black renters in Louisiana were much more likely to be late in paying their rent than their white counterparts. About 26% of black renters in the state said they were behind on rent, compared to just 6.5% of white renters.
Keep families at home, help homeowners get paid
Although resources are limited, some aid is available in Lafayette, mainly through rent aid for eligible tenants.
The Lafayette Emergency Assistance Program, funded by the US Department of the Treasury, is administered by Catholic Charities and SMILE Community Action Agency.
For those who qualify, it can help pay for up to 12 months of past due rent and utilities and up to three months of future assistance.
Eligible applicants must meet certain requirements such as undergoing an income reduction due to COVID-19 and having income equal to or less than 80% of the median income in the parish of Lafayette.
Consolidated government Lafayette received $ 7.2 million for rent assistance in the spring, and city and parish councils agreed to additional federal funding of $ 8.8 million at their meetings on Tuesday.
Since the program began in April, Catholic Charities of Acadiana has administered about $ 2.4 million and has been able to help about 2,000 households, said Ben Broussard, the association’s communications manager.
“We are working to keep people housed, especially knowing that the federal moratorium on evictions will increase at the end of the month,” he said. “We really feel like it’s a victory when families and individuals avoid this experience of homelessness and the trauma it entails. “
The program helps families and individuals secure their homes, especially important in Acadiana, which was hit by hurricanes in 2020, experienced a freeze, experienced spring flooding and still has not reached economic levels of ‘before the pandemic.
“Disasters affect people living in poverty to a disproportionate level,” said Broussard. “When you lack natural family support, when you lack financial resources, when you lack connection, you tend to suffer more than the rest of your neighbors.
“It can be a lonely experience and it can be an experience that you cannot help yourself without outside help.”
In addition to helping tenants, the program benefits landlords who may have lacked income because tenants were unable to pay.
“The owners struggled through this process. And it’s hard to say anything other than that, ”Saloom said. “But the money available through SMILE and Catholic Charities is available to the owner and could be the difference between another year with no income and at least some income to get you into 2021.”
Representatives attended hearings, working on-site with tenants who may be assisted in resolving a potential eviction, Saloom said.
“It is worth taking the time to meet with these agencies,” he said. “If they can help bring in the money or provide a roof over a head, then the time spent with them is not wasted.”
How can I help or get help?
Despite help from federal and local governments, resources to help those on the verge of homelessness or experiencing homelessness are scarce.
Those with discretionary income can donate to ARCH, SMILE, or Catholic Charities of Acadiana, which runs the St. Joseph’s Dinner and FoodNet Food Bank. Little used household items, such as those that can be donated to the ARCH sharehouse. These articles can help families and individuals in their transition to permanent housing.
Volunteers are also needed in St. Joseph’s five days a week on two separate shifts. The ARCH “always accepts volunteers,” said Dimitriadis. Anyone interested in becoming an advocate, ARCH offers educational opportunities that teach community members how to leverage their voices.
“Rather if it’s something that interests you,” Dimitriadis said, “we can make sure that you log in so that we can give back.”
For those who need rent assistance and think they might qualify for the LEAP program, visit SMILE or Catholic Charities of Acadiana to learn more. For legal assistance, especially when a tenant thinks it is an unfair eviction, contact Acadiana Legal Services Corp. For more information on local food banks, call 211.