(The Center Square) – A Louisiana program to pay rent for people facing economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and response has been put on hold because of overwhelming demand, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office says.
State officials say they are still taking applications for the program in anticipation of receiving additional funding from the federal government. They say more than 40,000 people have applied.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is paying for the first phase with $7 million from its HOME Investment Partnership Program. Payments will be made directly to landlords, not to renters.
State officials expect HUD to provide an additional $5 million in Community Development Block Grant funds and $12 million in Emergency Solutions Grant funds through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (better known as CARES) Act.
“The response to our state’s emergency rental assistance program proves how significant the economic burden of COVID-19 is for our citizens,” Edwards said, adding that “much more is needed to address this serious crisis.”
Louisiana currently is in “phase two” of the White House-approved road map for loosening restrictions meant to control the spread of COVID-19. Some Republicans, including much of the state House of Representatives’ GOP delegation, are calling for overturning the governor’s emergency order, citing the economic damage the restrictions have caused.
House Speaker Clay Schexnayder has discouraged his Republican colleagues from signing a petition to lift the order, saying it could lead to a loss of federal money for pandemic relief and other disasters.
An analysis by the Baton Rouge-based Center for Planning Excellence and UrbanFootprint ranked Louisiana third nationally for having a high risk of evictions. High unemployment in the service and hospitality sectors mean between 69,000 and 130,000 households across Louisiana are at risk of eviction, the report says.
Almost 7 million households nationally could face eviction without financial assistance. Closing this “rent gap” nationally could cost between $16.2 billion and $31.8 billion over six months, while Louisiana’s share of the cost ranges from $230 million to $432.2 million, according to the analysis.
Unemployed workers currently are receiving enhanced benefits from the federal government, though the extra help is scheduled to run out at the end of the month. Critics say the extra money is discouraging some people from returning to the workforce.
“In just two weeks, federal assistance will run out, and families could be forced into the streets at a time when Louisiana is facing record high temperatures, community spread of coronavirus, record levels of unemployment and food insecurity, and at the beginning of hurricane season,” CPEX President and CEO Camille Manning-Broome said. “This state-led program is a good start, but much more is needed.”
Renters can visit LaRentHelp.com or call 211 to apply.