Monday, June 17, 2024

Caddo Commission approves resolution to designate local entities to help process $7.1 million in emergency rental assistance

by BIZ Magazine

Angel Albring | BIZ. Magazine

On Thursday, Caddo Parish Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to designate local entities to help process applications for $7.1 million in federal emergency rental assistance that the parish expects to receive through the federal pandemic relief package that was passed in December.

The commission’s vote on the resolution only authorizes these entities to administer the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program applications and process them. The entities will not be granted any money and only the parish administration will be responsible for dispensing funds.

While there were specific entities listed in the resolution, such as Providence House, United Way of Northwest Louisiana, and the Housing Authority of Shreveport, Caddo Commissioner Steven Jackson said that the Parish Administration has the ability to add more entities, if they need additional help, and they can remove entities from giving help.

Hayley Barnett, director of finance, addressed the commission and clarified that Caddo Parish would receive the funding no matter how the vote turned out.

“As you all know we became aware of this program on January 7 and quickly put in our application for the money,” Barnett said. “This wasn’t so much an application process as more or less the federal government notifying us that we would receive $7.1 million dollars in a rental assistance grant.”

Barnett said that $7.1 million is a lot of money for them to manage, adding that the National Association of Communities (NACO) suggested that the parish administrators conduct a “needs assessment” and that they work with a group that has experience with rental assistance or affordable housing to help them process the applications for rental assistance.

Barnett said that 90% of the funds must be used for rental payments and utility assistance and that those payments have to be made from the Parish directly to the landlord or the utility provider. Ten percent of the funds must go for housing stability and grant administration costs.

“These costs are direct costs, which means we can’t use it for any kind of overhead measurements or any arbitrary dollar figure,” Barnett said. “It has to be the direct cost that it costs us to run the program.”

Currently, the parish administrators have not received all of the federal guidelines needed to administer the money, but Barnett said these guidelines should be sent to Caddo Parish, and the six other parishes that received funding, soon.

Barnett said the seven parishes were working together to come up with a streamlined process to field the influx of applications they expect to receive, and she stressed that federal funding has to be handled and accounted for in the way the government specifies.

“Federal money is something you have to be very experienced with,” she said. “And something I want to remind you all is that these federal funds, if we are ever found in non-compliance, it is subject to call-back. That means they can retrieve all $7 million that they are advancing the parish if they see, at any time, that we are not utilizing these funds properly.”

Barnett said that even though the parish does not currently have all of the guidelines from the federal government on how the applications should be processed, she does know that some people will have priority over others.

“This is a requirement from the Treasury, and that means that… your lowest income, and if you have been unemployed for 90-plus days, those people receive priority,” she said.

Barnett told the Commission that, based on U.S. Census Bureau data, Caddo Parish has approximately 33,800 rental units with an average $810 a month rental cost. Roughly 74% of renters pay between $500 and $1,500 a month.

The median annual income for renters is $22,370 with an estimated 18,600 people below the 80% area median income (AMI). Those households are considered low-income households by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development.

“We have an estimated 10,000 people who are at a high risk of housing insecurity, which means that at any time they could be homeless,” Barnett said. “We are very honored to be able to receive these funds.”

She added that the parish should receive the money “in the next week or so.”

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