Kansas and Missouri have millions in unspent federal rent assistance

Kansas and Missouri distributed only a fraction of the hundreds of millions the two states received from the federal government to compensate landlords for unpaid rents and prevent evictions.

President Joe Biden’s administration issued a new moratorium on evictions this week in communities with high and high transmission of COVID-19, after progressives’ reaction to the expiration of the previous ban.

Biden’s new order will cover tenants in those communities until October 3, but it might not even last that long. Homeowner groups have already filed a complaint against it. Biden openly questioned the constitutionality of the order the same day it was issued.

Faced with a ticking clock, the administration calls on states and cities to speed up the distribution of billions of Emergency Rent Assistance (ERA) money to prevent future evictions and maintain homeowners’ financial solvency after month of unpaid rent.

“We are trying to advocate for states, localities to get this money out. There is no reason that this should not be aimed at owners, tenants; no reason why eligible people should not benefit, ”White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week.

The money was sent to the states in February, but governors on both sides were slow to release the funds to the owners.

Although they are the ultimate beneficiaries of the assistance program, the homeowners are frustrated with the process. Both landlords and tenants faced bureaucratic hurdles in accessing money.

Stacey Johnson-Cosby, president of the KC Regional Housing Alliance, called the application process a nightmare and said state and local governments “still don’t have a well-oiled machine to get it out quickly and efficiently.”

Johnson-Cosby warned that without rent assistance, tenants currently protected by the moratorium will be in debt once the moratorium expires. Landowners, on the other hand, can lose properties to foreclosures or sell properties and walk away.

“They are frustrated, they are tired, they are at their wit’s end,” she said.

Kansas has contributed about $ 25 million of the $ 169 million in first-round ERA funds the state received from the federal government, according to the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, which administers the program. About 4,600 households received assistance out of about 9,555 applications submitted.

Ryan Vincent, director of the KHRC, said the state has also received around an additional $ 150 million. within a second PLAR round of funding, bringing the total aid available to over $ 300 million. Kansas has until 2025 to distribute it.

“If you look at it as a percentage, yes, $ 25 million out of the $ 300 million we have is not a big percentage. But what we emphasize is that we have funded more than half of the requests we have received to date, ”said Vincent. “Part of the key is making sure tenants, landlords and community partners are aware of this resource. “

Kansas did not have a pre-existing infrastructure to distribute the money, and the administration of Democratic Governor Laura Kelly launched the new program in March. It has seen increased interest in the past two weeks as national attention has focused on the future of the moratorium on evictions, Vincent said.

“No one knows what the exact need is and I don’t think Congress knew what the exact need was when they set aside the amount of money they made,” Vincent said in an interview. “What we do know is that there is a huge need, that there are tenants and landlords who are suffering from a year and a half of moratorium on evictions.”

Missouri received about $ 324 million in the first round of aid, but has so far granted just over $ 34 million in response to 6,812 applications, according to the Missouri Housing Development Commission , which administers the program.

Another 1,800 requests have been approved and are being processed, said Brian Vollenweider, spokesperson for MHDC.

About 60% of the funds awarded, or $ 20.1 million, were used to help tenants who are behind in rent. Most of the rest went to “advance rent” assistance to help tenants make future payments. Only 2% of the aid went to aid to public services.

“Looking at current trends, over the past 7-10 days there has been a slight increase in applications submitted,” Vollenweider wrote in an email.

As in Kansas, the increase coincided with the expiration of the original moratorium.

Missouri Democratic Representative Cori Bush and other progressive lawmakers slept on the steps of the Capitol in protest in an effort to pressure the Biden administration to move forward with a new order.

Bush and other lawmakers have stressed that the purpose of the new order is to give states more time to distribute funds.

Missouri Democratic Representative Emanuel Cleaver, who chairs the housing subcommittee, said in an email that Missouri’s distribution of the rent assistance money had been “deceptively slow” and has said he would work with Republican Gov. Mike Parson to resolve the issue.

“I was relieved to see President Biden take decisive action by extending the moratorium on evictions, but troubled tenants will continue to fall through the cracks if the rent aid is not distributed to families in the Missouri in a timely manner, ”Cleaver said.

“This is why members of Congress from all over the state, including myself, must work with Governor Parson to put these emergency funds in the pockets of tenants even before the eviction takes place. get into the conversation, ”Cleaver said. “No Missourian should lose the roof over their head while millions of dollars in rental aid are still waiting to be used.”

MHDC data shows that the amount of aid disbursed increased steadily in June and early July, peaking in the week of July 14, when $ 3.9 million was distributed, before dropping in the second half. of the month. But in the week of August 4, payments rose again, to $ 3.4 million.

Vollenweider said the time between request and approval varies, depending on the need to correct errors or provide more information.

“Approval of a submitted application can take place in just a few days and be funded in as little as two weeks,” he wrote.

In addition to the state, Kansas City received $ 14.8 million in rent assistance funds and distributed nearly $ 7.9 million to 1,835 households, the housing department spokesperson said. and city community development, John Baccala, in an email.

Almost 7,000 Kansas City residents have applied for rent assistance. The remaining funds are “committed for applicants currently in the system,” Baccala wrote. New applicants must apply through the state portal, he said.

Tara Raghuveer, director of KC Tenants, a group that has protested against the evictions, said activists “could anticipate even in March 2020 what nightmarish bureaucratic rental aid would be.” She called the rental industry bailout program and said canceling the rent would have been a better approach.

Jackson County distributed $ 5.5 million of the $ 11.6 million it received from the federal government. As of July 30, 1,228 households in Jackson County had received an average household help of $ 3,942.

On average, 30 requests are received each day and 1,095 are being processed. About 22 applications are closed and paid each day. Requests are processed by over 20 full-time and part-time case managers.

In a July 16 press release, the county said it had prevented more than 1,000 evictions.

“While we would like to write checks to cover requested assistance as soon as we receive a request, the law is very clear about documentary proof of need and eligibility, which definitely slows down the process,” Lynn Rose, vice -Senior president of Community League of services, said in an email.

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Bryan Lowry is White House Correspondent at McClatchy. He’s previously covered Congress for the Kansas City Star. He also reported on state politics in Missouri and Kansas for The Star and The Wichita Eagle, contributing to The Star’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist Kansas State Government Secrecy Project The Star.
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Kristina McManus

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