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Eric Daous, who's facing eviction from his Marrero apartment in days because of the end of the eviction moratorium, at his apartment on Tuesday, June 2, 2020.

Thousands of East Baton Rouge families who lost jobs due to the coronavirus could face eviction as federal housing aid expires, housing advocates fear.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment supplements have helped prevent mass evictions, but their benefits expire next week. And Congress has not yet agreed on renewing or replacing them.

"As we enter the last days of both programs, we're concerned people depending on those protections will really now be staring down a cliff," said Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center. "We're hopeful Congress would rise to the challenge of providing assistance to Americans who are struggling. But it has been disheartening thus far that government has failed to really ensure Americans can remain housed."

Without help, Hill's group estimates 14,000 families in East Baton Rouge Parish are at risk of being kicked out of their homes, with another 27,700 families in Orleans Parish.

State government launched its own $24 million state program, designed to assist approximately 10,000 residents by providing up to three months of direct payments to landlords. But, after launching July 16, Gov. John Bel Edwards' office said the program was temporarily suspended only three days later after the Louisiana Housing Corporation was inundated with more than 40,000 applications from renters seeking assistance.

The Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center and other housing advocacy groups are urging Edwards to secure more money. 

"We knew from the beginning that program was never going to be enough to really keep up with the majority who are at risk," Hill said. 

Her group estimates about $500 million is necessary to stop mass evictions.

After stay-at-home orders shut down businesses and put many people out of work, the $600 a week in extra unemployment benefits prevented thousands of out of work individuals from falling behind on monthly rent payments. 

The CARES Act also protected certain renters from getting evicted until July 25 if they lived in federally subsidized housing or if their landlords' rental properties were financed through federally subsidized mortgages. 

Julia Jack, staff attorney in the Baton Rouge area for Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, says the CARES act has prevented the tidal wave of evictions she expected after the state's moratorium on eviction proceedings expired. In order to file eviction requests, landlords must also submit to the courts notarized proof showing their properties didn't fall within the CARES Act protections, which most do. 

"We've have some eviction hearings, but not many," Jack said. "And the ones I have attended, the justices of the peace have been fair because they know people are struggling."

Elzie Alford, clerk of court and judicial administrator for Baton Rouge City Court, said evictions filings have been down since the state moratorium lifted and the ones that were on the docket before the pandemic hit were pushed back to give the court time to implement social distancing measures. 

But unless Congress or the state acts quickly to provide financial assistance to those that are still struggling, property owners will likely begin to default on mortgages and their local property taxes and renters will lose the roofs of their heads, Hill said. 

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know a lot of people don't have money right now and can't pay their rent," Hill said. "We're talking about a situation where people lost jobs and income, in part, because they did what they were suppose to do and stayed home because of the pandemic."

Hills added, "There's is an opportunity to stop the wave of evictions we might see, and that will require commitment and finding assistance to make sure people can remain housed." 


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com