HUD

Feds grant another $1.4 million to Lafayette for emergency housing assistance

The gist: Identified as a place at “higher risk” for evictions, Lafayette will receive a second and larger round of federal stimulus dollars intended for housing aid during the pandemic. At just under $1.4 million, the block grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development nearly doubles the last allocation Lafayette received, one the Guillory administration used to stand up a small business grant program.

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Housing advocates say the money adds flexibility but likely falls short of the overall need. Hundreds of Acadiana households remain in hotels with FEMA footing the bill, although that program is no longer taking on new clients. Sustained unemployment threatens to add more need to a largely under-resourced network of nonprofits, which is coordinating responses not only to the pandemic but also recovery efforts after Hurricane Laura. Acadiana Regional Coalition on Homelessness and Housing now has case managers helping those in the hotel program moving into stable housing. ARCH Executive Director Leigh Rachal says the latest round of funding could help that process move more quickly or go toward a longer-term solution. Acadiana’s shelter system is tapped out and stretched to its limits by the pandemic. 

“It’s sort of like a community operating without an emergency room,” Rachal says of the lack of shelter space. “If you have a medical crisis, you need an emergency room. These funds, because they’re so very flexible, provide some opportunity for the community to really think through what we need to do more holistically.” 

Hollis Conway, director of Lafayette’s Community Development Department, says his office is working on a community needs assessment to sort out the best use of the money.

HUD’s messaging on the allocation focuses on housing. In a press release announcing the nearly $2 billion allocation, HUD said it is exhausting what remains of the $5 billion set aside for community development block grants through the CARES to help “places with households facing higher risk of eviction.”

“These funds can help households struggling to meet their rental or mortgage obligations to stay afloat as our nation continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic,” U.S. Housing Secretary Ben Carson said in the HUD release.

Communities used funds from earlier rounds to tackle a variety of emerging needs, including housing, business support or to buy equipment like personal protective gear and testing supplies. Lafayette used all of its first grant — $852,000 — on a small business program that has struggled to move cash quickly and widely as promised. LCG has since shuffled around $560,000 in regular federal housing dollars and will chip $100,000 out of the small business recovery program to meet housing assistance needs. 

Louisiana will receive $27 million in this round of block grants. HUD’s release says states received priority for funding based on their level of unemployment and the current severity of their coronavirus outbreaks. Louisiana experienced one of the worst coronavirus rebounds, which has abated in recent weeks. 

Hundreds of thousands in Louisiana remain out of work or underemployed. Around 232,000 Louisiana workers filed continued jobless claims for the week ending Sept. 9. Just over 10,000 people in Lafayette Parish filed continued claims that same week. In May, the state peaked at 321,000 claims. Acadiana’s shelters remain tapped out. This week, the $300 boost to unemployment checks tacked on by the federal government will end, reducing the maximum weekly benefit to $247, among the lowest in the nation. Economists project Louisiana will not have recovered all jobs lost by 2021.

Launch of LCG and LEDA small business grant program delayed

The gist: Mayor-President Josh Guillory’s plan to allocate $850,000 to a small business grant program in partnership with LEDA is on hold as it awaits approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Originally, the goal was for LCG and LEDA to start accepting applications by June 1, but that timeline has been delayed.

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Louisiana cities are doing what they can to both save small businesses and keep people in their homes

Strapped for cash, some Louisiana cities are working to balance the needs of businesses and housing in how they use federal coronavirus relief.

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Embattled mayoral aide lands $79K job with state’s ATC

The gist: Marcus Bruno, former Mayor-President Joel Robideaux’s embattled aide, has landed a job with the state’s division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control.

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Ethics Board clears Bruno, finds loan not under supervision of mayor’s office

The gist: Mayoral aide Marcus Bruno did not violate the state ethics code, the Louisiana Board of Ethics determined, when he applied for and was awarded a small business loan from a local nonprofit in late 2016. Ethics found that the loan was not under the supervision or jurisdiction of the mayor’s office. 

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LCG lawyer, councilman at odds over Bruno loan

The gist: Despite the conclusions of an internal monitoring review that found numerous deficiencies in a taxpayer-funded federal loan to mayoral aide Marcus Bruno — findings that prompted Bruno to repay the loan seven years early — an assistant city-parish attorney is trying to make the case that the verdict is still out on any wrongdoing.

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Internal LCG review finds Bruno loan deficient, unusual and likely in default

The Community Development Department’s monitoring review of the 2016 loan to Robideaux aide Marcus Bruno found it in likely default for lack of compliance with federal requirements and recommends the nonprofit board that awarded it either modify the loan agreement, call in the loan or pursue legal action.

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Answers on Bruno loan will be slow coming

The gist: The City-Parish Council unanimously supported a resolution Tuesday by councilmen Jay Castille and Kenneth Boudreaux asking that the body be kept abreast of federal and state investigations into a suspect 2016 loan to one of the Mayor-President Joel Robideaux’s assistants. But it’s unlikely the council will be hearing anything any time soon.

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Former Community Development head says Bruno’s loan warrants an investigation. The council is mulling one.

Former Community Development Director Phil Lank says a HUD-backed small business loan to mayoral assistant Marcus Bruno represents a conflict of interest.

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