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Non-profit group argues Lafayette should use grant money for housing, not businesses forced to close

Community Development Block Grant worth nearly $850,000
LCG presser 5-11.jpg
Posted at 4:41 PM, May 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-15 18:59:14-04

LAFAYETTE, La. — Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory announced Wednesday that his administration would propose using $852,935 in funding provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide relief for small businesses adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic instead of giving it to local non-profits for housing programs.

Guilloy had originally announced on March 31 that the Lafayette Consolidated Government had received the Community Development Block Grant thanks to Congressman Clay Higgins securing it from HUD funding in the CARES Act that gives broad discretion for local needs.

The CDBG funds are being allocated through LCG’s Community Development Department, which asked for any person or business interested in receiving the grant to submit an application through April 27.

LCG Community Development Director Hollis Conway said the funds have strict guidelines and regulations that an applicant must meet, including the capacity to handle the grant money, employee experience, financial records and more.

According to a letter dated May 6 from Guillory and Conway, LCG received more than 30 applications from local nonprofits requesting an excess of $3 million in assistance.

LCG wrote that the need far exceeded their available resources, but that CDD was making every effort to secure additional funding to meet the other unmet needs.

Guillory has said he has an initiative to provide financial assistance from CDBG funds to local businesses that were forced to close down during Gov. John Bel Edward's Stay At Home Order through no fault of their own.

To do this, LCG will amend the 2018-2022 Housing and Community Development Consolidated Plan and PY19 Annual Action Plan.

LCG states the proposed Consolidated Plan and Annual Action Plan amendments for the CDBG funds will be available for comment from May 14 - May 18 at 5 p.m.

Guillory said he will present his initiative to the Lafayette City and Parish Councils during a special meeting on Tuesday, May 19. If the councils approve it, then the initiative will go to HUD for final approval.

Businesses would be eligible if they were forced to close down by the governor's order and were not able to receive federal assistance under either the CARES Act, Paycheck Protection Program, Small Business Administration Loans or Economic Injury Disaster Loans.

According to Guillory, the program would focus on businesses with nowhere else to turn including hair salons, barbers, tanning salons, musicians and massage therapists.

He added that if approved, the funds will be able to be distributed to qualifying businesses as early as June 1.

In a May 12 letter from Acadiana Regional Coalition on Homeless & Housing, or ARCH, Executive Director Leigh Rachal states that it is their position that the CDBG funds are most critically needed for direct utility and rental assistance to unemployed and underemployed Lafayette Parish residents in danger of losing their homes.

“With record levels of unemployment, hundreds of working individuals and families in Lafayette Parish through no fault of their own, find themselves unable to make ends meet, many of them for the first time in their lives,” said Rachal. “We are seeing the beginning of a wave of housing instability that, if left unchecked, will result in a crisis of homelessness and housing insecurity like nothing we have seen in generations.”

The initial unemployment claims for Lafayette Parish for the week of May 9 were 2,174, which were down from 2,802 on May 2, and 3,474 on April 25.

Rachal adds that the moratorium on evictions, foreclosures and utilities disconnections are temporarily staving off disaster. But, she warns that if community leaders fail to adequately plan for what happens once those restrictions are lifted, the consequences could be disastrous.

Since the Stay At Home Order was issued on March 23 by the governor, 232-HELP / 211 has fielded more than 1,051 calls for homeless assistance and shelter requests in Lafayette Parish.

They have fielded more than 500 calls in Lafayette Parish since May 1.

According to ARCH, in the past few weeks there has been an alarming increase in calls for assistance:

  • Faith House has seen a 20-25% increase in calls for shelter from those trying to flee domestic violence since the stay-at-home order means that abusers and their victims are forced to spend more time together.
  • As of May 8, 2020, there were 348 adults and 117 children (a total of 465 people) in emergency homeless shelters or local hotels operating as temporary shelters.

Rachal states that using the CDBG funds for rental and utility assistance will benefit other aspects of the community as well.

“When tenants are able to make rent, their landlords – many of whom run small businesses of their own – benefit,” she writes. “If customers are able to make their utilities payments, then Lafayette Utilities System, which is owned by the taxpayers, benefits.”

Rachal adds that the Consolidated Planning Documents for Lafayette have consistently prioritized annual HUD CDBG allocations for low to moderate income housing in Lafayette.

“Stabilizing housing for low to moderate income households is now the most strategic use of the COVID-related CDBG funds as well,” she states.

However, the amendments to the Consolidated Plan appears to address such households:

This is an amendment to the 2018-2022 Housing and Community Development Consolidated Plan for the Lafayette Consolidated Government (LCG) to receive and administer $852,935 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) and to add Assistance to Businesses as a high priority in order to provide business assistance and support to retain employees that are low- and moderate-income in response to COVID-19.

HUD also announced on May 1 that they will allocate more than $9 million in relief funding to help Louisiana residents living in public housing.

According to HUD, there are 97 Public Housing Authorities in the state will receive funds to "prepare for, prevent and respond to the current COVID-19 crisis and safeguard both public housing residents and housing authority staff," according to a release.

You can read LCG's May 6 letter below.

You can read the May 12 letter from ARCH below.


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