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The Federal Home Loan Bank Atlanta will provide $1.5 million in funding for three affordable housing developments in Baton Rouge and Acadiana.

The grant awards will be leveraged for developments worth nearly $34.6 million.

Housing advocates say Gov. John Bel Edwards' extension of the moratorium on evictions until at least June 15 is only a band-aid for the thousands of people struggling to pay rent in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown. 

Advocates with the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center predict a tsunami of evictions unless additional measures are put in place to protect renters and landlords. 

"During COVID-19 and the recent protests, Louisiana has proven we can show up for each other but as a state we continue to fail at showing up for the families who rent," said Maxwell Ciardullo, spokesman for the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center. "We had the worst landlord/tenant eviction rate pre-COVID, being ranked 19th in the nation. If things were bad before, they're going to be worse now."

Officials with Baton Rouge City Court have said some requests from eviction hearings were filed during the stay-at-home orders that temporarily closed the court, but couldn't say how many. 

There's also a backlog of hearings to be rescheduled once the moratorium is lifted.   

Ciardullo said temporarily suspending evictions isn't the solution given how severely the coronavirus affected the economy, forcing so many businesses to shutter and layoff or furlough employees as government leaders tried to mitigate the spread of the respiratory COVID-19 virus. 

Before courts are allowed to resume eviction hearings and decide whether to evict a tenant, he said, judges and justices of the peace need to ensure landlords aren't bound by certain provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act the president signed in March. 

The CARES Act blocks landlords with federally subsidized mortgages on their rental properties or ones with federally subsidized housing from evicting tenants and/or charging them late fees for nonpayment of rent until July 25.

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"Renters really have no way to see if their landlords are covered so the burden should fall on the courts for that," Ciardullo said. 

He said local assistance programs that protect tenants while also making landlords whole financially would help. And making sure anyone who ends up in eviction court has access to legal representation would as well, he added. 

"Data pre-COVID has shown that people who have representation had dramatically lower eviction rates," Ciardullo said. "Making sure everyone has an attorney could cut eviction rates in half."

The city-parish in partnership with the Office of Social Services and Division of Human Development and Services has opened a hotline offering assistance to parish residents for rent, mortgage and/or utility bills. 

"We support the (moratorium) extension and are pointing residents to this resource," said Mark Armstrong, spokesman for Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome. "We have been concerned about this since the pandemic began. And we have publicly called on landlords to be compassionate and work with their renters." 

To apply for that assistance, call (225) 358-4561 and/or submit online at http://brla.itfrontdesk.com.  

  


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com