LIVINGSTON — As a critical February deadline approaches, housing officials worry that some renters displaced by the August 2016 flood could find themselves homeless.
The displaced renters have until the deadline to either move out of temporary housing units provided by the federal government or start paying market rent to remain in them. Housing officials say former renters still waiting on their old apartments to get fixed are at particular risk of becoming homeless.
"That rental population, those individuals, when it came up on the deadline, they may not have anywhere to move to," said Earl Randall III, field office director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in New Orleans.
Some of those renters see their former apartments as their home and are stuck on the landlord's schedule to fix them, Randall said. Others lived before the flood in what was extremely affordable housing, such as a trailer on a relative's lot that simply does not exist anymore, said Nicole Sweazy, executive director of the Louisiana Housing Authority.
"Whatever was going on with their pre-flood unit, they clearly thought they were going to return to it, which is why FEMA put them in the (manufactured housing unit)," Sweazy said. "And now, owners are walking away from properties, repairs aren't being done fast enough, the programs are ending and people need to get back into permanent housing."
In anticipation of looming problems, the Louisiana Housing Authority has been reaching out to 281 former renters who are living in mobile homes or apartments paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Last week, the housing authority hosted three fairs for former renters, whose leased apartments, houses or trailers flooded in August 2016. The events in Baton Rouge, Livingston and Hammond attracted 77 people, all of whom were approved for rapid rehousing vouchers, Sweazy said.
Funded with $16 million from HUD's Community Development Block Grant program, people can use the coupons to defray the cost of renting an apartment. The stipulation is applicants must find a unit within 60 days. Applicants must also regularly meet with case managers. Assistance is available for a maximum of one year and is slowly reduced as people ideally learn to budget for their new homes.
At the fairs, people were assessed for their eligibility for assistance based on their situation and income level. Some also met with prospective landlords and five signed leases on the spot in Baton Rouge and Livingston, Sweazy said.
"We're trying to set expectations with people that this is not long-term assistance. We're trying to help you recover," Sweazy said.
She said more apartments are available now in Livingston Parish compared to directly after the flood, demonstrated by the fact that landlords reached out to see if they could participate in the program. But some prices for apartments have gone up, she said.
Janet Torres hasn't lived under the same roof as her two teenage children or her boyfriend since floodwater engulfed their two acres in Living…
In addition, some people looking for housing now are adjusting from extremely low-cost situations, such as living in HUD-subsidized housing or on a relative's lost.
Those attending Tuesday's fair in Livingston included former residents of Livingston Manor, a HUD-subsidized complex for elderly people who are living in manufactured housing units,, Sweazy said. She said the assistance could help them land apartments while they wait for the 52-unit complex to reopen next year.
Rapid rehousing is a model used to help the homeless to move into apartments. The Louisiana Housing Authority first used it in connection to the flood in October 2016 as a way to close the Celtic Shelter, a movie production studio turned into a shelter for more than 2,000 people.
Mechael Williams was smiling from ear-to-ear Wednesday morning as she walked around a nearly empty sound stage at Celtic Studios — one of the …
Similar housing fairs held in Baton Rouge last month attracted 181 applicants, of which 179 received vouchers, according to Randall. HUD and FEMA are also helping implement the program.
Sweazy said questions have arisen about whether homeowners will be eligible. At this time, only renters are eligible for the program, although the issue of homeowners far from returning to their homes has also been under discussion, she said.
People who think they might be eligible for the assistance can email firstname.lastname@example.org.