Even though only a fraction of the federal COVID-19 rent assistance the state received went to distressed tenants in Louisiana, the Assistant Commissioner of Administration for the Administration Division, Desiree Honore Thomas , said Thursday that she expects payments to be made earlier from now on.
“We fixed all the issues,” Thomas said over the phone. “When you set up something new, you’re going to have issues… I think the processing time has gone down because we’ve probably run into almost every scenario. “
Statewide rental assistance program began in early March after Louisiana received $ 309 million in December 2020 COVID-19 relief plan to help tenants and owners in difficulty. Louisiana received an additional $ 244 million from the American Rescue Act.
In June, about 319,000 tenants in Louisiana were not caught up with rent payments and about 266,000 tenants said they had “no confidence” in their ability to pay next month’s rent, according to Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey data.
As of July 21, only $ 10.1 million of a total of $ 553 million had been paid to just 976 distressed tenants and landlords, according to US Department of the Treasury data.
Two weeks later, the state more than doubled the amount of rent assistance paid, Thomas said. As of Thursday, she said, about $ 21 million in rent assistance had been paid to about 3,400 tenants in Louisiana, she said.
Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, said in a telephone interview last week that the state’s rental assistance programs were not moving fast enough because “local actors in the State have failed to keep their end of the bargain ”.
“All emergency rental assistance programs at all levels… must massively increase the staff and resources dedicated to their programs” in order to disburse the resources tenants need in a timely manner, said Hill.
“These programs will be judged by the number of people on the waiting list who will still be on the streets when the moratorium on evictions expires,” she said.
Thomas said she disagreed that a lack of staff or resources was the reason rent assistance payments have been slow.
“The state part (of the rental assistance program) is fully staffed,” she said.
Thomas said the lack of payments had more to do with the number of extra hoops applicants have to go through in this rental assistance program.
For example, this year’s rental assistance program requires the tenant and landlord to turn in certain parts of the rental assistance application – including the landlord agreeing to waive all accrued penalties and not evict the tenant. tenant for at least 60 days – before the application can even go through the review process, Thomas said.
“It was quite different, because normally when you apply for something… you don’t have to go find another party to say, ‘Are you okay or not? “And so on,” she said.
Thomas said payments were also slow as many of those receiving weekly unemployment benefits did not need to apply for housing assistance. Louisiana Weekly Unemployment Benefits ended July 31.
The state had already significantly accelerated its rent assistance payments in the previous two months. About $ 17 million was disbursed in June and July, while only about $ 4 million was disbursed from March to April.
About 26,000 Louisianans have applied for rent assistance since the program began, Thomas said. Approximately 10,000 of these applicants lacked information and have been or will be contacted by the division to complete the required application information.
About 7,000 others were contacted about missing information but did not respond after more than two months. Fewer than 500 were turned down and the rest were either approved or under review, Thomas said.
If a tenant and landlord submit all of the required information as perfectly as possible, then they should expect to receive rent assistance payments in two or three weeks, she said.
“If you submit a request today, two weeks from now, if there has been no action, then someone will contact you” about the missing information, Thomas said.
She said “we have already seen a strong increase in applications” after CDC deportation moratorium expired on July 31. the moratorium was effectively reinstated three days later. Thomas said she expects more tenants and landlords to apply for rent assistance in the coming weeks. “People have come to realize that ‘Hey, I could potentially be kicked out,’ she said.
The CDC’s new eviction moratorium applies to counties with high or substantial rates of community transmission of COVID-19, or places with more than 50 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 population. More than 80% of US counties meet this threshold, and Louisiana’s 64 parishes are listed by the state as “at highest risk” for transmission of COVID-19.