Hundreds of renters in New Orleans have received eviction notices this summer due to unpaid rent—and local advocates and officials expect the worst has yet to come, right as hurricane season gets under way.
That is because Louisiana’s ban on evictions during the coronavirus pandemic expired in June and the grace period for a separate federal eviction moratorium expires Aug. 24.
Even before the pandemic, 44% of the state’s renter residents were considered housing cost-burdened, according to the Louisiana Housing Corporation, meaning they spent more than a third of their incomes on rent. And at $247 a week, Louisiana has among the lowest maximum unemployment benefits of any state.
Chucked-out belongings are now spotted on some New Orleans street corners. Baby cribs and child car seats, the remnants from forced-out families, sit stacked in piles in 90-degree heat. One Twitter user dubbed the unsightly accumulations “eviction cairns” in the city of 400,000.
With limited public funds on hand, the mayor of New Orleans is asking the public to donate money through Givebutter.com, a website often used by college students for funding charity causes, to raise money for tenants who can’t pay their rent.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s effort has brought in about $46,000, according to the website, short of her stated goal of $75,000. That amount would cover three months of rent for 31 families who pay $800 a month or less.
Ms. Cantrell summed it up in a message on her website: “The need simply far outpaces the resources.”
Ms. Cantrell began fundraising shortly after a federal eviction ban expired last month. Cities such as New York and San Francisco have banned evictions during the pandemic to protect tenants behind on rent, but New Orleans hasn’t. It is one of the most susceptible places in the country for mass evictions due to its large, low-wage population facing job losses and other hardships during the pandemic.
The federal government, through existing funding and several relief programs, has supplied $24 million to Louisiana to help renters statewide. But local administrators say their systems have been overwhelmed by the number of requests and little of the money has been distributed. Like the city of New Orleans’ rental assistance fund, it was inundated with applications as soon as it was announced.
“We’re gonna see what happens now,” said Constable Lambert C. Boissiere Jr., whose job is to enforce evictions when people are ordered to leave their homes by court judges.
Most tenants move out voluntarily when receiving an eviction notice. If they don’t, the constable’s deputies step in. As of Aug. 13, Mr. Boissiere said his deputies had enforced 76 evictions since June. One woman, Mr. Boissiere said, locked herself in her bathroom until police officers were called in to get her out.
“It’s sad to see, especially single parents with children that had to be evicted,” he said.
Denike MaGee, a 22-year-old single mother, hopes to avoid that fate. She is several months behind on rent, and her landlord in New Orleans East moved to evict her earlier this month. The judge ruled that she couldn’t be removed until Aug. 24, under the terms of the federal eviction moratorium. A local charity, Total Community Action, also offered to pay for some of her rent.
Ms. MaGee, an out-of-work housekeeper, qualifies for $28 a week in unemployment benefits in Louisiana. As of mid-August, she had about $100 in her bank account, she said. Her rent is $750 a month and she hasn’t paid this month. If evicted, Ms. MaGee and her 3-year-old daughter might have to move in with her mother, who has diabetes and a higher risk of Covid-19, Ms. MaGee said.
“It’s kind of scary and I have to prepare myself for the worst,” Ms. MaGee said.
Hannah Adams, the legal aid attorney who helped stop Ms. MaGee’s eviction, is trying to work with her landlord to establish a payment plan that would keep her in her home.
Ms. MaGee’s building is owned by a subsidiary of the nonprofit Global Ministries Foundation. Chasity Blackburn, the company’s managing director, said with the help from charity now coming in, she expects Ms. MaGee to be able to stay.
“When someone owes us $7,000 and they come in and only pay us $700, that’s not going to work. We’re still a business at the end of the day,” she said.
Many New Orleans landlords say they try to work out payment plans with tenants who will work with them. But they say they can only let people live rent-free for so many months and still be able to pay their workers and their own debts.
Joshua Bruno, a landlord whose company owns about 1,500 apartments in New Orleans, has filed evictions against some tenants during the pandemic. Units at his lower-cost apartment complexes are now renting, he says, as service-industry workers with fewer hours look for cheaper housing options.
“[They] realize that where they were making $1,000 a night as a bartender, they’re not going to make that now,” Mr. Bruno said.