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‘I’ll lose it all’: Tenants left in the dark as Kansas City ends rental assistance program | KCUR 89.3

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Rubby Herrera, 27, had never been behind on rent or utilities. But in April, Herrera lost her service job and was behind on rent.

She immediately applied for Kansas City, Missouri’s Rental Assistance and Emergency Utilities Program, and worked two jobs to catch up. But she missed the rent again in May and submitted another application for rent assistance.

At the end of May, Herrera received an eviction notice.

“It’s not like I don’t want to pay rent,” Herrera said. “I just happened to have a flashback that put me in a really bad position.”

She feels overwhelmed and stressed. She lost both of her jobs. She has to take care of her cat. And she still hasn’t received any help from the city.

With $ 14.8 million in federal funding, Kansas City opened its Emergency Rental Assistance program in March to help tenants who needed help paying their rent and utility bills during the pandemic. But not all tenants like Herrera who asked for help received the help they thought they were getting.

Now, four months after its launch, the program is no longer accepting new applications. The city has already received enough requests to use all of its $ 14.8 million fundraising fund.

According to data provided by the city, 1,122 households have been helped so far. Almost $ 4.8 million in funding had been spent by the end of June. More than 7,000 requests in total were received in early July, according to information provided by the Community Assistance Council, a non-profit partnership with the city for the distribution of rental assistance funds.

The Kansas City Rental and Emergency Utilities Assistance Program is one of 458 programs nationwide created by federal law in response to the pandemic.

Tenants eligible for assistance in Kansas City can receive up to 12 months of assistance, including past due rents or utility bills as of April 1, 2020, and three months of future rent. Funds are sent directly to the landlord or tenant’s utility company.

Kansas City has been approved for a second round of emergency rental assistance funding. The application portal says it will reopen on September 1.

Jennifer Tidwell, division director of housing and community development in Kansas City, Missouri, said the city is instead asking people to apply for the Missouri state assistance program for housing assistance. The state program received $ 323.7 billion in federal funding to distribute for rent and utility assistance.

“There will be no disruption in anyone’s ability to get funding because it can go directly to the state,” Tidwell said. “They can continue to apply and the state has a lot more money than we do.”

Tidwell said the city recently hired new employees who can provide updates on people’s applications.

“We’re improving the things we do to make it more efficient for residents to be able to get funding,” she said.

How local nonprofits have helped tenants

Pandemic federal funds for rent and utility assistance have enabled social service organizations like Reconciliation Services to provide more assistance, said Jodi Mathews, director of marketing and development. Initially, Reconciliation Services received $ 250,000 in rent assistance funds from the city. That money was spent in seven weeks, she said.

The organization has asked the city for more funds to distribute – the team has the capacity to process more requests with dedicated case managers, and staff can process requests within two weeks.

So far, Mathews said the organization has distributed approximately $ 650,000 in rental and utility assistance to 75 clients.

“We have prevented 62 evictions,” she said. “We have worked to secure new housing for 10 clients. “

Local agencies bombarded with applications

Although the city is not accepting new applications, there is still money to be spent. Requests submitted through the online portal are routed to local non-profit organizations for processing.

But it came with challenges.

The Community Assistance Council, a social service agency serving southern Kansas City, received $ 550,000 from the city – $ 50,000 to hire a staff member to work on the claims and the rest for rent and assistance. to public services.

So far, the Community Assistance Council has spent $ 147,899 on aid for 100 households, according to executive director Rachel Casey.

As of July 7, there were 1,592 requests located in the Community Assistance Council service area that had not yet been sent to the agency. The organization is not currently accepting more applications because it could not handle the volume of applications, Casey said.

The need is great, she said. But there is not enough money for everyone.

“You hear these numbers, and they sound huge,” Casey said. “But people have been off work for months and months and months.”

ReStart, a Kansas City social service agency that serves homeless people, received $ 500,000 from the city for rent assistance. By the end of July, the organization will have used up those funds, said CEO Stephanie Boyer.

Boyer said there were still people who had applied on the application portal and had not yet been contacted.

“When the portal opened, there was a huge influx of people applying at the same time,” she said. “We are catching up on the infrastructure side. “

A slow process for nonprofits and tenants

The longer it takes for applications to be approved, the harder it is for tenants to catch up.

When Herrera applied for rent assistance, she received an email saying it would take four to six weeks for a case worker to contact you.

But with Herrera’s work schedule, it was difficult to connect.

The time it takes to process a request may also depend on the capacity of the association.

At the Community Support Council, Casey said it takes an average of 30 days to process a request and send the money.

Once the rental aid was announced, calls jumped to 100 per day, Casey said. Three part-time employees work to process appeals and requests.

The main hold-up? Obtain a response from the owner of a requestor. Once a tenant makes a request, the landlord must provide documents showing the amount owed to them.

Boyer of reStart said it can be a cumbersome process involving constant back and forth between case managers, landlords and tenants. She said some candidates who applied in April were only recently assigned to an agency.

“They were pretty stressed out about not knowing what was going to happen and if they were going to experience homelessness,” Boyer said.

Stacey Johnson-Cosby is a landlord in Kansas City and executive director of the Kansas City Regional Housing Alliance, a group representing homeowners and providers of subway housing.

Johnson-Cosby said homeowners also needed help paying their bills and taking care of the property. But the application process is a challenge, she said.

“The documentation, the application process, is a nightmare. And it’s hard to get it right the first time, ”she said. “If you don’t have the technology or the computer, you can’t really apply.”

Mathews with Reconciliation Services said it will be important to have open communication between the city and organizations while the rest of the funding is distributed.

“If we don’t communicate about what’s available, we won’t be able to help people,” Mathews said. “The worst thing would be to have organizations sitting on this funding, or not having the staff and time resources to be able to get it where it will do the most good. “

Tenants still risk eviction even after filing an application

In April, Sara Jones at Lees Summit received an eviction notice. She owed $ 6,000 in rent and overdue court fees and more in overdue utility bills. The federal moratorium on evictions means Jones can stay in his apartment until the end of July.

Jones applied for help through Jackson County in June, which covered his rent and utility debt.

She asked for three months of future rent assistance. But the money was not approved because there must be a landlord willing to rent it out. It’s difficult with an expulsion on his record.

In August, Jones doesn’t know where she will go.

“Now I’m going to lose everything,” she said.

In June, a judgment was passed against Herrera in Kansas City. She now has an eviction on her record.

She hopes the rental aid will arrive. But she also expects the worst.

“If I don’t have a place when I am told to leave, I will be homeless on the streets with my cat,” she said. “Now that I have an expulsion in my name, it’s going to be so much harder to get a spot.”

This story was originally published on The tag.


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