On Friday, New Orleans joined a growing number of cities across the country in suspending residential evictions in light of the coronavirus pandemic. According to a court order from the Orleans Parish Civil District Court, the city’s eviction courts will not be hearing any eviction cases until April 24.
The First and Second City Courts were scheduled to hear 106 eviction cases between now and March 30.
As the novel coronavirus has spread rapidly, housing justice groups and politicians, including Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, have called loudly for cities to take actions to suspend evictions and utility shut offs. The New Orleans Sewage and Water Board announced yesterday that it would suspend service shut offs as long as an emergency declaration by Mayor LaToya Cantrell remains in effect.
New Orleans’ decisions to suspend both service shutoffs and evictions comes as the cancellation of events and travel plans threatens the financial stability of hospitality, service, and tourism industry workers. For many of these workers, missing one paycheck can mean falling behind on rent. A report by the Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative found that 5.2 percent of New Orleans renter households were subjected to court-mandated evictions in recent years— nearly double the national average.
The Court’s order applies to all residential evictions, going further than some other cities that are considering suspending evictions only for tenants who can provide documentation showing a substantial loss of income related to the virus. It goes further than New York City’s moratorium, which, as of now, is in effect for one week only. Moratoriums have been passed or are being considered in Miami, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The New Orleans order does not affect orders that have already been issued by the court, according to a spokesperson for the Orleans Parish Civil District Court. Those evictions may be carried out in the next few weeks.
“You’re going to have people who probably are going to have to bunk up with other people, if they’re elderly they’re going to have to move in with their children, if they’re younger maybe they’ll have to live with their grandparents,” said Frank Southall, lead organizer with Jane Place. “So you’re really forcing people into social conditions that are not conducive to fighting this.”
Southall is also concerned that the suspension does not extend long enough to protect against the potential long-term economic effects of the pandemic. New Orleans’ economy is dependent on tourism, and the city has already cancelled a number of festivals and concerts. On Friday, Gov. John Bel Edwards prohibited all gatherings of more than 250 people.
“Even if Jazz Fest goes on, you’re going to have a dip in people coming,” said Southall. “I don’t see people being able to make the money they need to pay May rent so we need to develop some type of aid package for workers that will help them be able to get into the summer well.”
On Friday, housing advocacy organizations sent a letter to the Housing Authority of New Orleans requesting that the agency immediately suspend termination and eviction proceedings in its housing units. Housing advocates also plan next week to put pressure on courts in surrounding parishes to consider a similar moratorium.