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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -
At least two mothers are on pins and needles facing eviction. That's after the help they were counting on didn't arrive in time.
Federal dollars from the Department of Housing and Urban Development are meant to keep tenants from being evicted and possibly becoming homeless. But, at least two tenants said they've been asking for the money for weeks and months. Now, one of them already has an eviction notice and the second is expecting one.
"If I don't know what's going on, I possibly could be out tomorrow with really no place to go," said Mia Price, a tenant at Goodwood Place Apartments.
Price is like the millions of Americans without a job right now. She was laid off, so she's not able to make ends meet with five children and an $800 monthly rent, so she reached out for help.
"I went to Options Foundation in mid-July to try to get assistance and I explained to the lady that I lost my job in mid-April and I explained to her that I would need assistance for July and August," said Price.
Options Foundation is a non-profit organization that helps tenants with rental assistance to avoid eviction. The way it works is the organization decides whether people meet the criteria for the money. If they qualify, Options Foundation pays the tenant's rent and then gets reimbursed by the parish Office of Community Development, OCD. A federal grant from HUD makes all this possible.
Price said Rhonda Bruno, a case advisor at Options Foundation, told her land lady Price qualified for the assistance.
Kiran: "So this entire time, you were under the impression that you were qualified and this money was getting paid to your manager?" Price: "Yes." Kiran: "Okay, but it wasn't?" Price: "It never got paid."
So, she said she started calling Bruno on almost a daily basis.
"My land lady called me up again and she told me, 'I still haven't received payments for July or August.' So I said, 'Well, let me try again.' I called for about a week, no answer - nothing. I couldn't even track her. She wasn't even answering her cell phone. Finally, I got served the eviction notice to be out this apartment," said Price.
Because Goodwood Place Apartments never received the July and August rent, August 23, a notice to vacate was served on Price and her five children, ordering them out by the next day. However, for the moment, she remains in her apartment thanks to her land lady working with her, but she doesn't know how long that's going to last.
Across town at the Shiloh Apartments in Melrose East, Loretta Kaufman has a similar story. In mid-August, she too was directed to talk to Rhonda Bruno at Options Foundation to apply for rental assistance.
"From that time, it was very difficult to get an answer back from Rhonda Bruno," said Kaufman.
She needed $490 for only the month of September. When she finally did get in touch with Bruno, she was told to meet her on Friday, August 26. On her drive over, Kaufman said Bruno called and cancelled their meeting claiming car trouble. They rescheduled for August 29, the same day Price was told to show up at 544 N. Foster Street.
"A lady, a Caucasian lady next door said, 'What are you guys standing here for?' After about an hour-and-a-half, she says, 'Oh, this building over there has not been in operation in some time in a couple of years,'" said Kaufman.
Both ladies said Bruno never showed up. Until this day, both claim they can't reach her. Now, the two are expecting to be evicted any day. Options Foundation is just one of the many non-profit organizations that helps with rental assistance. Again, they pay the rent and the parish Office of Community Development reimburses them using dollars from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The I-TEAM called Chip Boyles with the parish OCD on Monday. We were told he would look into this case. When I called him Thursday, I was forwarded to the mayor's office who issued me a statement, but both refused to comment on-camera. This is what the mayor's office had to say about the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing program:
"The HPRP program is one of the most accountable programs at the city-parish Office of Community Development because the grant money is paid out in the form of reimbursements."
But, a program they call "accountable" is why both women said the system has failed them.
"It's just sad that Washington, D.C. is thinking that things are being taken care of here in Baton Rouge, LA," said Kaufman. "That's a hurting feeling that I'm in this situation because of an organization that promised something and didn't come through," said Price.
Since the I-TEAM started making calls, Price said Options Foundation did pay her July rent around 3 this afternoon, but not August. So, she was served an eviction notice today to vacate by tomorrow. As for Kaufman, she tells me Options is in talks right now with her property manager.
Now, I called Chip Boyles with OCD again. He told me the mayor's office already issued a statement, which you saw and that he had nothing further to add. And then, there's HUD, who is providing all the money for this grant. We spoke to the regional spokesperson. He said HUD is making "inquiries" into the allegations of the system breaking down.