No matter what we look like or what’s in our wallet, we all deserve access to an attorney when we’re
in court at risk of losing our home, our belongings, and our health. Protecting the tens of thousands of our residents at risk of eviction has become even more imperative since Hurricane Ida and Entergy’s failures compounded the disaster created by COVID-19. Before the storm, thousands of families were still sitting on wait lists and behind on rent as the Delta variant surged and our tourism and hospitality economy struggled to recover. That number has only increased as many residents used their last funds to pay for hotel rooms, gas, and food ahead of the storm. More renters are also now dealing with landlords trying to illegally evict them after longstanding maintenance issues turned leaks into deluges and collapsed ceilings.
Right now, 94% of families in eviction court don’t have access to an attorney, which disproportionately impacts households headed by Black women. Dozens of cities have funded Right to Counsel (RTC) programs in the past five years to level the playing field in eviction court, including Louisville, Cleveland, Newark, Baltimore, and Milwaukee. In addition to stabilizing families, multiple analyses have shown that Right to Counsel programs decrease evictions and homelessness and save cities money. Fully funding RTC in New Orleans is estimated to cost $2 million in the first year, or less than 0.2% of the city budget. Research suggests it could save three times as much, if not more.
No matter what we look like or what neighborhood we live in, we all deserve a safe and healthy home. Since 2015, the New Orleans Mayor and City Council have considered, but failed to create a program to make this a reality. Instead slumlords, like Sylvia Burn’s—whose ceiling collapsed during Hurricane Ida after she lodged a years’ worth of complaints about leaks—have profited off our lax health and safety protections. Our health and safety can no longer be ignored.
We need a Healthy Homes program to set basic health and safety standards for all rentals, like safe and operating plumbing, electrical systems, and heat and air conditioning, as well as roofs and walls free of leaks and mold. Slumlords with big buildings and dozens of units should be prioritized for regular safety inspections. Small “mom and pop” landlords should be offered support to bring their properties up to code. And renters should be protected from retaliation.
Across Louisiana, LaFHAC has documented multiple instances of city and parish councils acquiescing to small groups of mostly white homeowners intent on denying approval to affordable housing developments.