Yesterday, on May 7, the New Orleans City Council secured a major victory for tenants’ rights and housing justice during the coronavirus pandemic.
While the resolution carries no actual authority, it was groundbreaking in its own right. The resolution officially urges the City Courts of New Orleans to suspend all residential evictions through August 24, 2020, in light of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
All seven council members sponsored the bill.
The August 24 date is not arbitrary. Under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, apartment owners who received federal subsidies and mortgages cannot provide notices to vacate until July 25, and they must provide at least 30 days thereafter.
“This resolution shows that New Orleans stands up for its workers,” said Y. Frank Southall. Southall is the lead organizer and community engagement coordinator with Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, a housing justice organization in New Orleans.
Mr. Southall also organizes a broad-based renters’ rights committee known as the New Orleans Housing Justice Coalition.
According to Jane Place, the same demand was sent to the Louisiana Supreme Court with 61 organizations signing on across the state.
Although this is a non-binding resolution, it certainly helps bolster our demand to the judges! Hopefully we hear from the Supreme Court soon- our last demand letter was sent on Monday with 61 organizational co-signers from across the state.
— Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative (@JanePlaceCLT) May 7, 2020
“This resolution is a request … to the state and local government, that they protect both renters and landlords from severe financial strains imposed by COVID-19,” Councilmember Jared Brossett stated. Councilmember Brossett noted that the request was made by both tenants’ organizations and landlords throughout the city.
“This resolution is about the priority of our public health. I am deeply concerned about a potential tidal wave of evictions and homelessness we could see if eviction courts reopen as soon as mid [May].” Councilmember Brossett said.
Councilmembers Banks and Gisleson Palmer expressed a desire to cancel both rents and mortgages for tenants and homeowners, respectively. “You can’t do one without the other,” Gisleson Palmer said.
“We’re really talking about this for our most marginalized communities, because we don’t want them to wind up in unsafe situations, like being homeless.”
“It’s very clear that housing and health are linked together,” Councilmember Gisleson Palmer added.
Also according to Jane Place, 71 citizens offered public comment on the issue, the majority of which were in support.
Noah Tapper, a service industry worker who says he was “hit hard” by the loss of the tourism industry, expressed his views via public comment.
“A mass eviction that starts as soon as the city begins to open back up will be bad for everyone except a small group of landlords,” Tapper said. “Even during the crisis we saw several small companies try to evict their tenants, so I have no reason to believe landlords will be forgiving if the courts open on May 18.”
“The most likely outcome of reopening eviction courts while so many New Orleanians are out of work is a public health nightmare,” another comment said. “We would undoubtedly see an increase in infections that would keep us all at home even longer.”
To Southall, the resolution is one major step forward for working-class renters and vulnerable community members. But there is much more work to do.
“This resolution is only the beginning,” he said.
You can read the text of the resolution here.