Rental assistance funds approved by Congress in the most recent coronavirus aid package are making their way to the local level. However, it's still unclear when the money could be available for cash-strapped renters or their landlords in Acadiana.
The money comes from a $25 billion program funded through the U.S. Treasury Department. While it has been praised by fair housing experts as the most significant aid for renters and landlords to date, it remains only a fraction of what is needed.
Louisiana got $308 million. Seven parishes — Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, East Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Caddo and Calcasieu — are large enough to apply to distribute the funds themselves, and are being granted allotments based on population.
Lafayette Parish was approved for $16.2 million.
The parish received an initial payment of $7.3 million, which is 45% of its allotment based on population.
The state will provide the remaining 55% once the local programs share data to ensure there is no duplication of benefits and that guidelines are being met. They must also establish that they are giving priority to those in their parish who applied through the state's previous program, according to a letter Gov. John Bel Edwards sent to Cantrell on Thursday.
"We learned about the money Jan. 7 and we received the funds at the end of last week," said Hollis Conway, director of community development for Lafayette Consolidated Government. "This week was the initial meeting of our non-profit partners. It takes a little time to get these things out, though we’re making great progress right now."
The former Don’s Seafood restaurant in downtown Lafayette has been bought by a group of investors with plans to convert it to a mixed use space.
Under federal guidelines, the money can cover up to 12 months of back rent and three months of future rent payments, with an option for an additional three months if needed, and is available to cover the rent for those making 80% of the area's median income, with an emphasis on those making just 50%.
But the program was designed to be flexible and allow the state and any qualifying parish to make adjustments based on local need as long as they meet those guidelines.
The Louisiana Housing Corp. will handle the dispersal of funds to parishes not large enough to run their own programs.
Executive Director Keith Cunningham said LHC is working to get the money out as quickly as possible, but he said the legislation, which has been praised for the flexibility it allows for, also leaves a lot of gray areas and questions that need to be answered.
He said that the change in presidential administrations has slowed the process. The $25 billion was allocated under President Donald Trump but the program is now being run by President Joe Biden's administration.
The Lafayette Housing Authority is again looking for a new executive director after Ted Ortiviz resigned less than one year into the job.
Cunningham said his office will disburse the money as quickly as possible, but declined to say when that will happen.
“While we anticipate we will be launching shortly, I can’t define shortly,” he said. “There is still a lot being done behind the scenes.”
According to the Treasury Department, any rent payments go to the landlord, and proof the rent is paid is provided to the tenant. In instances where the landlord is not participating, however, there isn't any guidance provided yet, according to the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, which has been tracking the program since the bill was passed.
Staff writer Ben Myers contributed to this report