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If You Need Help Paying Rent, The Kansas City Area Has Millions Of Dollars Going Unused

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas unveils the Emergency Rental & Utility Assistance Program during a press conference in March.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas unveils the Emergency Rental & Utility Assistance Program during a press conference in March.

Advocates say for many local households, the emergency rental aid could “potentially be the biggest financial assist that they ever get in their life.”

Millions of dollars in rental assistance is still available for residents in Kansas City and Jackson County, Missouri.

Both local governments were able to directly apply to the U.S. Department of Treasury for emergency rental assistance funding.

“This has the chance really to change a family's trajectory to help them avoid eviction to remain stably housed,” said Doug Cowan, president and CEO of The Community Services League, which is partnering with Jackson County to distribute the funds.

Jackson County opened up its application in April to families struggling to pay rent in the wake of the pandemic. Since then, the county has paid $3.7 million to 933 households.

The distributed funds only make up 32% of the county’s $11.5 million federal allocation for emergency rental assistance. However, Cowan says the county is working on pushing out another nearly $4 million in relief by mid-August.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas announced in March that the city would be rolling out a $14.8 million package for help with rent and utilities. Since then, $4.8 million in rental assistance has been distributed to 1,200 families through community agencies.

Cowan said the 2,000 applications received in Jackson County was “unprecedented.”

“But these are also unprecedented amounts of dollars for this particular region,” Cowan said.

Missouri has allocated $324 million in rental relief, but appears to have paid only $20 million to individuals for rental assistance through the State Assistance for Housing Relief Program (SAFHR), contributing to a total of $46 million in overall housing assistance, which includes payments for landlords, legal fees and debt payments.

Cowan said that the state faces more challenges in distributing its funds than densely populated areas like Kansas City and Jackson County.

“I can only imagine that working in more rural communities and trying to outreach is difficult. And the state dollars, that pot of money is largely servicing the more rural counties,” Cowan said.

An expiring eviction moratorium

To keep up with its own influx of traffic, Cowan said his organization has expanded its staff and partnered with other local service providers to distribute the funds.

Cowan said staff is working as quickly to get through applications, but the county’s website states it could take up to four weeks to complete the process.

With a national moratorium expiring at the end of July, Kansas City housing advocates say that isn’t quick enough.

Tara Raghuveer, founding director of KC Tenants, said the group has been working to connect renters with rental and utility assistance.

“More often than not, when we check back with those tenants who are in pretty desperate need of those resources, they're not getting them and sometimes they're not even getting a call back,” Raghuveer told KCUR's Up To Date.

Stacey Johnson-Cosby is president of the Kansas City Regional Housing Alliance, a local nonprofit comprised of landlords across the area.

She said one of the factors hindering assistance from getting out of Jefferson City more quickly is the flood of those in need. She told KCUR's Up To Date that it can take up to six weeks for a case manager to be assigned to applicants.

Another factor is the “cumbersome” application process, which Johnson-Cosby said requires applicants to provide a lot of documentation.

“But the good news is that the money is there,” Johnson-Cosby said.

Johnson-Cosby said the priority for her and other local landlords is to preempt the need to evict tenants by connecting them with these rental assistance programs.

Since help might not get to tenants in time to make rent, Cowan said that staff begins correspondence with the landlord when they first open an application.

“We set an expectation early on that, 'Hey, it's going to take some time to gather all the documentation, and then it has to go through compliance,' And I didn't have one landlord that pushed back on the timeline,” Cowan said.

Cowan recommends families to apply for aid even if they think they may not qualify, and communicate with their landlord when they do so.

Cowan says he estimates Jackson County’s funds to run out in September. The organization then plans on helping families access assistance through the state’s portal.

Renters and landlords in Jackson County, Missouri, can apply for emergency rental assistance through the ERAP program. In Kansas City, a list of resources and partners is available here.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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