Tyesha Young was more than $7,000 behind in rent payments. She hoped that a Louisiana program would help her and her family avoid eviction in the weeks ahead.
The 29-year old mother of two from Jefferson Parish still awaits to hear if any of the $308 millions available from the state for utility payments and rental assistance will provide her with a lifeline. Last year, she applied for money but was never granted. She is still waiting for a response to her latest application.
The federal money was split between the largest parishes and a Louisiana statewide program. Both have not been successful. Jefferson Parish only received $1.4 million from $12.9 million while the state has already paid $10.5 million of $147 millions. After receiving $236,000 in May, the parish took over the oversight of the program.
Young asked, “Where are you going?” Young lost her job as a hospital worker during the pandemic. She must now stay at home to care for her seven-month-old.
She said, “This is all brand new. It’s not something I expected to have to deal with in my lifetime.” “I have two kids to think about. It’s a lot.
Louisiana’s problems are being played out all across the country, as states rush for $47 billion in emergency rental assistance. This is before a federal moratorium expires July 31. Millions of people could lose their homes.
This historic amount, which is more than the annual budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was allotted in December and March.
Housing advocates attribute the slow rollout to the Treasury Department, which they claim was slow in explaining how the money could have been spent. Although the criteria were clearer under the Biden administration they were still criticised for being too burdensome and more focused on fraud prevention than helping tenants.
Advocates said that states also made matters worse, as some took months to create programs while others created bureaucratic obstacles.
This has meant that very little money has been sent out. According to Friday’s data from the Treasury Department, $1.5 billion was only provided to 350,000 households as of May 31. This is less than 4% from the total amount of money.
Missouri Rep. Cori Bus, a Democrat, who herself was evicted, stated that her office has received many calls from families who don’t know how or feel the application is too confusing.
She said, “It’s absurd that millions of dollars are sitting on the state’s account, while families… throughout Missouri are struggling to remain in their homes.”
“This assistance is crucial for many families. It makes the difference between coming home with an eviction notice and coming home with a safe place to sleep at night.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, 3.4 million people could be facing eviction within the next two-months — a number that advocates believe could be twice as high.
Tenants will be forced to leave a hot housing market, where prices are rising while vacancy rates are falling. Many tenants will also be left with delinquent back rent records and eviction notices that make it nearly impossible to find housing. This could lead to many people turning to shelters for homeless or finding homes in low-income areas without access to good schools and transportation.
Freddie Davis, a 51 year-old Miami truck driver, is one of those at risk. His rent increased from $875 to $1.400 per month after he lost his job in the pandemic. He is $7,000 behind in rent and worries that his $1,038 monthly disability check from diabetes after he lost a leg to the disease will not be enough to help him find another place. His landlord denied him rental assistance.
“I am worried as hell. Davis, who has been working since he was 15, said that he doesn’t have any other options and had never been evicted. Rent is high in Miami. I will sleep in my truck, and all my stuff will go into storage.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition found only 14% of December’s funds had been distributed to 51 programs it tracked. The March money is not yet distributed by most states.
According to the Associated Press, assistance was not being granted to states such as North Dakota or California. Georgia only distributed $11 million from $552 million. North Dakota provided $3.4million of $200 million. North Carolina was awarded $73million out of $546million. California received $73million of $1.4billion. New York launched its $2 billion program last month, but it expects that it will take four to six weeks for it to distribute anything.
According to a Housing Coalition survey, there are many obstacles to overcome, including a lack of ability to administer the program, technical difficulties in setting it up, and a lack of cooperation between tenants and landlords.
Some landlords declined to participate. Sometimes tenants didn’t submit applications because they had to show proof of financial hardship or lost work during the pandemic.
These same problems were evident last year, when nearly $2.6 billion was set aside by states under the CARES Act to provide rental assistance.
The common refrain was that the federal requirements were too burdensome and the guidelines too strict.
Erica Boggess is the executive director of West Virginia Housing Fund. She described it as “time-consuming” when explaining why the fund had only distributed $8.7 million out of $200 million in the first round.
Boggess stated that it is labor-intensive because of the requirements, which include proving a COVID-19 hardship as well as documenting income of applicants before they are submitted to landlords for funds.
She said, “It’s frustrating both for the tenant as well as landlords.” We have to go through this process. It is not something you can do in a matter of hours.
California has changed its long application process, which can take up to three hours. The number of documents required has been reduced from nine to one. Now it takes only 30 minutes to complete. It also increased the number of languages available on the website for the program from two to six.
Russ Heimerich, a spokesperson for California’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, stated that the state originally followed Treasury rules to prevent duplication of benefits and ensure applicants got what they were entitled. He said, “Now we simply rely upon a tenant’s attestation that they had a COVID-19 economic hardship.”
The Treasury Department, in order to streamline the process, has demanded money be sent directly to tenants since March. It also urged landlords to refrain from evicting tenants within the first 90 days of the assistance period.
Susan Rice, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council said this week that relief is needed now before the eviction moratorium expires at July 31st. “Renters in danger of being evicted are desperate for this relief and landlords must pay their bills.”