Louisiana landlords will not be allowed to evict their tenants until June 5, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday, and while housing advocates praised the move, they say evictions should be suspended through the summer to align with federal housing protections under the CARES ACT.
Edwards’ extended moratorium on evictions, announced during a virtual town hall hosted by The Advocate. was one of several changes ordered by proclamation that will move the state into Phase One of its economic reopening. He currently expects this phase will last three weeks, until June 5.
Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center Executive Director Cashauna Hill said the extension “will go a long way toward providing relief for Louisianians who have lost income and lost jobs as a result of the pandemic.”
Still, Hill said, the state’s eviction courts should be closed much longer.
“Ideally the state’s eviction courts will be closed and evictions suspended until August 24, which would put the state of Louisiana in line with the protections that are included in the federal stimulus bill,” she said of the CARES Act, which was also responsible for sending stimulus checks to many Americans.
The CARES Act suspends evictions nationwide until Aug. 24, but only for people living in a property covered by a federally-backed mortgage. That, Hill said, could lead to a confusing situation that could create two classes of Louisiana renters come June 5: those who are protected from eviction and those who are not, based on the type of house they live in.
“How is an ordinary tenant to know whether or not their landlord has a federally backed mortgage?” Hill asked. “Generally speaking, landlords are not providing detailed information to their tenants about their mortgage types.”
Breonne DeDecker, program director with the New Orleans-based Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, said her organization is “very concerned that the city, state and federal governments have not aligned the proper resources to prevent a tidal wave of evictions from occurring when courts re-open” in Louisiana.
During Thursday’s town hall, Edwards suggested the state could “reevaluate that situation as we move,” but also said a suspension on evictions “can’t go on forever.”
“I know that there are some people out there who are experiencing a tremendous hardship, but we also know that we’ve paid a billion and a half dollars out in unemployment assistance,” Edwards said of the unemployment benefits boost provided to states by the federal government under the CARES Act.
Edwards said that while the formal judicial process for evicting tenants has been suspended during the coronavirus pandemic, rent payments have not. He urged tenants to pay rent to their landlords “if they can.” If people are unable to pay rent in full, he suggested they contact their landlord to work out a deal to make a partial payment.
“Because at some point, obviously, not only will the public health emergency be over, but we can’t continue to suspend this forever,” Edwards said. “And you don’t want to dig yourself a bigger hole than is absolutely necessary.”
DeDecker, of Jane Place, said ideally rent and mortgage collection would be suspended “to ensure that both landlords and tenants are covered during this unprecedented public health crisis and deepening economic crisis.”