Assistance available to Louisiana renters affected by virus
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana will offer $24 million in emergency rent assistance to low-income residents faced with the threat of eviction because their paychecks have taken a hit from the coronavirus outbreak, a program announced Thursday by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
The Louisiana Housing Corporation started taking applications for the aid Thursday at LARentHelp.com and will use federal dollars to finance the program. Information also is available by calling 211.
The rental aid — which will be paid directly to landlords on behalf of the tenants — will be available on a first-come, first-served basis to an estimated 10,000 people, said E. Keith Cunningham, executive director of the housing corporation.
He said while an estimated 82% to 87% of renters still are paying their landlords, that could change when the boosted $600-per-week federal unemployment payments expire at the end of the month.
“We have not seen large issues yet. But again, we understand that a number of individual measures have been put in place, including unemployment, that have probably kept this issue from being a problem as of yet,” Cunningham said.
To be eligible, a person must have lost income because of COVID-19, be at risk of eviction and have income that is at or below 30% of the area median income. That’s $13,500 for a single-person household or $19,300 for a family of four. Anyone who receives other government housing assistance is unable to receive the aid.
The program will have $7 million immediately available, but will build to $24 million, all from federal financing sources, Cunningham said.
Housing advocates called the program a good start, but said it’s far too little to address the needs expected when federal unemployment assistance runs out.
“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,” Camille Manning-Broome, president of the Center for Planning Excellence, said in a statement.
A network of regional housing alliances, called HousingLOUISIANA, estimated a minimum of $250 million in rental assistance is needed through the end of 2020 to ensure Louisiana residents don’t go homeless because of the outbreak.
Louisiana announced another 2,280 cases of the coronavirus Thursday and is averaging more than 2,000 new confirmed infections a day over the last week.
The state emerged as a hot spot in the virus outbreak earlier this year, but seemed to have successfully flattened the curve of infections until recently. Now, Louisiana again has one of the fastest growing infection rates per capita across the nation.
Hospitalization numbers are surging, and the percentage of coronavirus tests returning positive also has alarmed public health experts. Edwards enacted a statewide mask mandate that took effect Monday, limited bars to takeout and delivery and issued new restrictions on indoor gatherings.
“We can turn this around again. We’ve done it before,” the Democratic governor said at his weekly media briefing.
Edwards announced Thursday that federally created drive-thru testing sites in the Baton Rouge area will no longer close this weekend as planned. Instead, the sites will remain open until all 60,000 tests allocated to them are completed, with about 21,000 tests done so far. Some of the tests will be distributed to the Lafayette and Lake Charles areas, where virus cases have spiked.
Nearly 3,400 Louisiana residents have died from the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, according to the state health department. More than 86,400 people in Louisiana have been confirmed infected with the coronavirus since March, and the health department says more than 53,000 are presumed recovered.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.