The Time is Now

Thousands of New Orleanians are struggling to keep a roof over their heads during this pandemic. We can’t afford to wait any longer for action.

Perspective Guest

Right now, more than 50,000 New Orleans households are struggling to pay rent due to COVID-19-related job loss and housing insecurity. It’s beyond time local, state and federal leaders #PutHousingFirst by providing immediate rental assistance. Recent data shows an estimated $250-$500 million is needed statewide to keep vulnerable renters in their homes through the end of this year. New Orleans alone needs at least $60 million and has thousands of households on a waiting list for rental assistance.

In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Department of Health & Human Services announced a broad moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent through the end of the year for all tenants who meet certain eligibility requirements and present a signed declaration to their landlords. But while an eviction moratorium is essential, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed. This action delays, but does not prevent, evictions and it does nothing for essential workers or vulnerable populations on fixed incomes who have not lost income but are still struggling to keep a roof over their heads. It also does nothing for the people already evicted during the pandemic.

Congress and the White House must work on negotiations to enact a COVID-19 relief bill with at least $100 billion in emergency rental assistance. City and state officials must #PutHousingFirst by providing assistance for essential workers who are housing insecure and by providing new housing for vulnerable populations. Together with the national eviction moratorium, this would keep renters stably housed during and after the pandemic.

New Orleans and the state of Louisiana must use funds from all available sources, including CARES Act supplemental Community Development Block Grants and Emergency Services Grants, for immediate rental assistance so landlords can continue to provide housing for renters and to secure occupiable hotel rooms and short-term rentals for the housing insecure as shelter-in-place and social distancing policies tighten. The rental assistance should have renter protections, such as just-cause eviction protections, a 14-day right to cure, anti-retaliation policies and fair criminal background screening procedures in order to secure the city’s investment in each unit of affordable housing and ensure stability and long-term tenancy for the renter.

These programs should also include an allocation for case workers, for those in need of social services, and for property managers and maintenance personnel who will be working tirelessly to ensure the habitability of homes during this crisis.

This crisis calls for bold ideas from leaders who aren’t afraid to put those ideas into action. We need the kind of leadership that turned the convention center into a $200 million hospital and created a $300 million program for small businesses that were left out of the $8 billion in funds other Louisiana businesses received through the PPP program. Why hasn’t this kind of innovative thinking been done for housing? Where is the housing program from leaders that the people of New Orleans need and deserve?

Our failure to address the city’s affordable housing crisis now demands quick action in light of this global pandemic. We can no longer wait years for construction of new homes and apartments, nor can we delay policy implementation for months. We need solutions that provide housing within days, so our family, friends and neighbors aren’t forced to risk their health to keep a roof over their heads. For those who are struggling with housing insecurity, we need solutions that address those concerns within hours.

HousingNOLA and its advocacy partner, the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance (GNOHA) continue to call on the governor and mayor to lead by example and use their executive powers to finally align resources and direct local and state agencies to #PutHousingFirst and guarantee sustainable housing solutions. We must provide real relief, follow through with impactful programs and connect people with the thousands of empty homes, apartments and hotel rooms that are available right now. The pandemic calls for people to shelter at home, and because of that the time has come for our leaders to address the affordable housing crisis that has crippled this community for years.

 

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Andreanecia M. Morris is the executive director of HousingNOLA, a 10-year partnership between the community leaders, and dozens of public, private and nonprofit organizations working to solve New Orleans’ affordable housing crisis.