In the wake of the U.S Supreme Court’s decision to end the eviction moratorium, states and local governments are under pressure to distribute rental assistance dollars to keep tenants in their homes.
In Kansas City, Missouri, social service groups are facing a steep influx of people looking for help and are scrambling to process applications and get money to people in danger of eviction. Applications for Kansas City’s Emergency Rental and Utilities Assistance Program reopened online on Sept. 1. A previous round of assistance ended in July.
John Baccala, spokesperson for Kansas City’s Housing and Community Development Department, said the city received $11.7 million in federal funding for the current round of rental and utility assistance. That’s less than the $14.8 million the city allocated to the program when it first opened in March. Baccala said the city will receive this new funding in two batches: $4.6 million for the first round and the remaining $7.1 million once those initial funds are spent.
As of September, the city had spent $10.2 million in federal funding for emergency rental and utility assistance, Baccala said. According to U.S. treasury data, that money helped about 3,100 households as of July.
Rachel North, an attorney at Legal Aid of Western Missouri, a Kansas City nonprofit that provides legal assistance to tenants, said the demand for help is high.
“In a lot of the cases where people are being evicted for nonpayment of rent, getting that rental assistance is likely the only way to resolve the issue,” North said.
To ensure the money is distributed faster, Kansas City will open up an emergency rental assistance center starting Sept. 17, according to a recent news release. Residents can receive help applying for the city’s Emergency Rental and Utilities Assistance Program by making an appointment at the center, located at the offices of the Housing and Community Development Department.
Information on Kansas City’s Emergency Rental Assistance Center
- Kansas City, Missouri residents can get help on their applications by going to the Emergency Rental Assistance Center at 4400 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The center is open to appointments only. Walk-ins are not accepted.
- Call (816) 513-4501 to schedule an appointment
- On Sept. 17, the center will be open from 1-4 p.m. CST
- On Sept. 20, the center will be open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m.-12 p.m., and 1-4 p.m CST. On Thursdays, the center will be open from 1-6 p.m. CST.
Delays and obstacles in providing rental assistance
Kansas City first opened its Emergency Rental and Utilities Assistance Program in March with $14.8 million in federal funding. In mid-July, The Kansas City Beacon reported that the city had closed its online application portal because it had received enough applications to exhaust its funding.
For tenants, the program was riddled with obstacles. The Beacon found that tenants who were behind on rent and qualified for emergency rental assistance were waiting weeks or even months to hear back about their application. In the meantime, they fell further into debt. Baccala said applicants who did not receive funding from the first round of rental assistance will be entered into the city’s current program.
According to data from the U.S. Treasury on the money spent for emergency rental assistance, $12.6 million of the city’s fund had been spent as of July — about 85% of the program’s total funding.
“These tenants who are already sitting behind, who are already feeling crunched, and are being threatened by their landlord, sometimes on a weekly or daily basis, are having to apply for this application and are still having to wait up to two months to even get that,” said Mason Andrew Kilpatrick, a leader with the housing justice group KC Tenants.
Since the federal moratorium on some evictions ended after the Supreme Court’s Aug. 26 decision, Kilpatrick has been hearing from tenants who applied for rental assistance and are stuck waiting for help.
“These eviction filings are being processed a lot faster than the process of actually disseminating this rental assistance to tenants,” Kilpatrick said.
Stacey Johnson-Cosby, president of the Kansas City Regional Housing Alliance and a local landlord, said she hopes the end of the moratorium will prompt local governments to distribute money faster.
“I think that the governmental entities need to actually focus on doing what needs to be done to streamline the process,” she said. “We need to get all hands on deck, they need to figure it out.”
Local governments should talk to landlords, tenants and social service agencies to figure out where the bottlenecks are, Johnson-Cosby said.
“They need to put all effort and energy into focusing on: Why isn’t this money being spent wisely and getting out fast enough?” she said.
Gina Chiala, executive director and staff attorney at the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom, a local nonprofit that offers legal help to tenants, said resources are available for the city to increase staffing and distribute resources more swiftly.
“They are still there, they need to be fast-tracked,” Chiala said about rental assistance funds. “There needs to be less burdensome paperwork on tenants in order to receive that funding.”
Kansas City nonprofits face increased demand, limited capacity
Around Kansas City, local social service agencies and nonprofits are tasked with distributing emergency assistance funding and helping tenants with applications. Some have seen an increase in calls since the eviction moratorium ended.
“We have lines out the door right now for walk-ins, trying to make appointments. The phone inbox is filling up, and I think at last count our email inbox is pushing the 500 mark,” said Jodi Mathews, director of marketing and development at Reconciliation Services, a nonprofit at 31st Street and Troost Avenue. “We definitely have hit kind of a tipping point.”
Stephanie Boyer is the CEO at reStart, a downtown agency that helps people who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless and has been partnering with both Kansas City and the state of Missouri to help tenants in recent months. Boyer said she thinks the demand for rental aid will continue.
“Our state team was just on a virtual call with someone facing eviction in the court last week,” she said. “And they were able to report to the judge that the person had applied for assistance and the judge did continue the case. So that’s good. But are we going to be able to catch all of those? I don’t know.”
During the first round of assistance, which lasted from March into July, reStart was overwhelmed with applications. This time, Boyer said she is looking at hiring more staff to get assistance out faster.
Limited capacity to handle applications and help tenants is a common problem for nonprofits. Even the city hired additional staff to process rental assistance applications, Baccala said.
The Community Assistance Council in south Kansas City is also helping to disperse rental assistance funds. Rachel Casey, executive director, said her team hired an additional staff member to process applications.
In addition to meeting immediate needs like rental assistance, food and diapers, Casey said her staff also stays in touch with clients to figure out the next steps.
At Reconciliation Services, Mathews said the team is looking to train volunteers to help people with the rental assistance application and handle the volume of people looking for aid.
“It’s really critical to have the case management support, to walk people through the process,” Mathews said. “Otherwise, those that have … the intellectual ability to do it are going to rise to the top and get what they need, and our neighbors that are really struggling, that have a hard time getting even the basic first steps of the process, are going to fall off.”
What tenants should know about applying for rental assistance
- Kansas City’s Emergency Rental and Utilities Assistance Program can pay off back-owed rent and past-due utility bills accumulated since April 2020. The program can also fund three months’ worth of future rent.
- The program is open to renters, and funds are sent to the landlord or utility company when an application is approved.
- Renters must show they experienced financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and meet the program’s income requirements.
- Tenants who live in Kansas City, Missouri, can apply through Kansas City’s online portal here.
- Tenants who live outside Kansas City but within Jackson County can apply for the county’s emergency rental assistance program here.
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