Lafayette will put up more to help renters, shifting $100,000 from business relief

Photo by Christiaan Mader

The gist: After months of resisting calls to do more to keep vulnerable families housed, the Guillory administration will carve out a small portion of coronavirus relief money for rent and utility assistance. LCG committed Tuesday to shift $100,000 out of emergency funds currently dedicated to its business relief program and repurpose another $300,000 in regular housing program money to rent relief. 

Most of the money LCG put toward emergency rent assistance has come from shuffling around housing dollars it already manages. The $100,000 reallocation will be cut from the $850,000 federal coronavirus relief grant the Guillory administration and LEDA used to set up, over the objections of housing advocates, the Lafayette Business Recovery Program, which has come up short of its initial promise to help hundreds of small businesses. Another $300,000 would be allocated to rent and utility assistance from the Community Development Department’s regular housing program budget. 

“It’s been difficult to get the funding to these businesses,” Community Development Director Hollis Conway told council members Tuesday night, reiterating that his staff is overtasked in administering the program.

Altogether, LCG has committed $660,000 to direct housing support, including $260,000 the administration offered up as a compromise to housing advocates earlier this year. Leigh Rachal, who heads the Acadiana Regional Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, says that money is only just now hitting the street, and it’s moving quickly.

Lafayette’s business grant program has struggled to get money into the hands of the businesses it was sold to help. Called the Lafayette Business Recovery Program, it combined the $850,000 in coronavirus relief funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and a $200,000 matching grant from LEDA, which has managed the public-facing portal for applications. Approximately 1,000 businesses applied. 

To date, 33 businesses have been approved for funding. Sixteen businesses qualified for the more restrictive HUD reimbursements managed by LCG, accounting for $119,000 in grants. Another 17 businesses were funded by LEDA’s funding pool, not burdened by federal red tape, totalling $118,000. Three more applications are pending approval for LEDA funds. Conway said another dozen or so applicants are in the pipeline on the LCG side. It has more than $600,000 remaining to spend. 

Regulatory snags have slowed the program. Faced with onerous documentation requirements, the vast majority of applicants have washed out of the multi-tiered process. As of mid-August, the program had moved just $26,000 of the federal award. LEDA CEO Gregg Gothreaux forged ahead to quickly disburse the portion put up by his agency. LEDA’s dollars do not come up with the thorny restrictions that complicate the HUD-funded reimbursements. 

In the end, many businesses will get the help they need to continue operations through the BRP,” Gothreaux said in a statement announcing the latest awards this week. “We won’t have enough funds to help everyone, but we want to assist as many businesses as we can that were forced to close or limit operations due to government orders.”

Council members are pressing the administration to get things moving. City Councilwoman Nanette Cook and Parish Councilman Kevin Naquin both pushed for Conway to get the $100,000 out as soon as possible, angling for an emergency meeting if necessary.

“It failed to get the money out quickly; meanwhile, we’ve got people losing their homes,” Naquin told Conway. 

HUD added more flexibility to the relief funds. But it’s unclear that substantially more businesses will benefit. Under new guidance issued in early August, up to 30% of the award can be spent to benefit workers earning above low to moderate incomes, and businesses that received other federal help can now qualify. A key selling point pushed hard by Mayor-President Josh Guillory, Gothreaux and others was the program would target businesses who had nowhere else to go. HUD’s updated guidance also set a long deadline to spend the money, giving LCG three years to spend at least 80% of its award and six years to spend all of it.

From the jump, housing advocates argued the HUD funds were better used for housing, given added flexibility included in the block grant program, a creature of the CARES Act, intended to get money into renters’ hands and avoid widespread homelessness. A wave of evictions, feared for months by housing advocates in the wake of rising unemployment, has yet to materialize. And this week, the federal government issued a sweeping moratorium on evictions through the end of the year. How that order works in practice is still unclear, and advocates call it a stay of execution — not a solution — on rising housing instability nationally. 

“We haven’t seen the evictions, but we have seen people call for assistance. People are really struggling to make ends meet,” says Rachal.

About the Author

Christiaan Mader founded The Current in 2018, reviving the brand from a short-lived culture magazine he created for Lafayette publisher INDMedia. An award-winning investigative and culture journalist, Christiaan’s work as a writer and reporter has appeared in The New York Times, Vice, Offbeat, Gambit, and The Advocate.

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