Housing is the Foundation of Our Lives

 In Chronology

ARCH Executive Director, Leigh Rachal, shared the following with the Lafayette City and Parish Councils on May 19th, 2020, related to the use of HUD Community Development Block Grant funding for housing supports in Lafayette parish. Unfortunately, the councils did not ultimately vote to use these critical funds for housing supports.


Hello. My name is Leigh Rachal.

I’m honored and grateful to have the opportunity to speak with you tonight regarding housing in Acadiana.

I’ve worked in nonprofits – primarily those focused on housing solutions in Acadiana, for the past 15 years.

Currently, I’m the Executive Director of the Acadiana Regional Coalition on Homelessness and Housing (ARCH),

the co-chair of the Acadiana Housing Alliance,

and the chair of the Housing Subcommittee of Acadiana Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (AVOAD).

To be clear from the start, I want to stress that ARCH is not, at this time, requesting any funding from the CDBG-CV fund.

I’m speaking in opposition to the proposed use of these funds for businesses, in favor of utilizing these funds to provide direct housing relief.

 

I have devoted my professional career to advocating for safe, decent, and affordable housing because I know that housing is the cornerstone that holds together every other aspect of our lives.

Outcomes in education, employment, and healthcare are all negatively impacted when a family does not have stable housing.

Teachers can share the difficulties of educating children whose housing isn’t stable.

Employees without stable housing will struggle to maintain employment.

And we have seen during this pandemic how crucial housing – the ability to stay home, and access to basic sanitization – is for health outcomes.

During disasters, when faced with hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes, we know that the first thing a community must work to stabilize is safe shelter and housing for all of its citizens.

We call on teams of volunteers to help us quickly repair and rebuild housing after floods because we know that until families have access to decent housing again, nothing is returning to normal.

Without safe shelter or housing, individuals and families are not able to do the necessary work of recovering from a disaster.

Housing is the necessary pre-curser to recovery and must be prioritized before all other aspects of life can “get back to normal”….

Make no mistake about it, Lafayette is facing a housing crisis RIGHT NOW. This disaster didn’t cause damage to housing, but it has already caused households to lose their homes.

In the past month and a half, Lafayette has already seen a 58% increase in homelessness.

We have not yet seen hundreds of families evicted from their homes because eviction protections are in place for a bit more time. But pretending that there is no housing crisis because we haven’t seen the mass evictions yet is a bit like saying “there is no damage” before the hurricane even comes on shore.

We know that at least 5000 LUS customers are currently struggling to pay their utilities. If only 500 (or 1/10) of those households ultimately need 1-2 months of rent and utility assistance to maintain their housing, we will need all $852,935 to address this. That’s just the math.

This COVID-19 disaster is new in many ways. But the prioritization that we must give to housing for the citizens of Lafayette in the aftermath of a disaster is not new.

And the most efficient and effective way to do this is to provide direct rental and utility relief for those facing possible eviction.

The proposed Consolidated Plan amendment stated that $852,935 would be divided among approximately 300 businesses that employ low-moderate income employees. This averages about $2800 per business.

Let’s imagine that an employee of one of those businesses takes home $600/week in wages. If the average micro-grant is for $2800 and a business has 5 of these employees, the micro-grant they receive will not be enough to cover ONE WEEK of payroll for that business.

And, if any of those employees had fallen behind on their rent while they were not working due to COVID-19, with an estimated rent payment of $800/month, the $600 payroll check they receive is not going to be enough to cover even one month of rent for the employee, not to mention any of their other basic necessities.

Which means that household will still face eviction, despite obtaining or maintaining their job at one of the small businesses receiving the proposed assistance.

On the other hand, if $852,935 is used to cover up to 3 months of rent for low-moderate income households directly. Then this same employee of this same small business can catch up on their rent payments – providing a stable foundation of housing for that household – from which they can seek or maintain employment, education, and healthcare.

To be very clear, the question before us today isn’t about who deserves funding or who “needs it more”. There is plenty of “need” to go around.

But direct assistance for rent and utilities to stabilize their housing is the most effective and efficient way to provide relief to low and moderate income families during this housing crisis, caused by COVID-19.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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