ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused hardship in all facets of life, none more critical than the ability to keep a roof over one’s head.
With many in Kansas facing difficulty making rent payments, the state recently announced the creation of the Kansas Eviction Protection Program (KEPP). The program provides rental assistance to households that have missed one or more rent payment(s) as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Landlords and tenants apply via a joint online process and if the application is approved, the landlord receives rental assistance funds directly from KEPP, applies KEPP funds to the tenant’s account, and waives late fees for the month(s) assistance was awarded. Approved tenants are eligible for a maximum of nine months of assistance, not to exceed $5,000 per household. KEPP serves tenants and landlords who have missed paying or collecting at least one rent payment since April 1 due to the pandemic.
“The more serious talks about making it available happened during the spring and summer as we saw the implications of COVID-19 hit statewide,” Kansas Housing Resources Corporation (KHRC) Executive Director Ryan Vincent said. “Then there was a bit of a lag between the extended unemployment benefits people were receiving and also the moratoriums on evictions that was in place, and there were also some federal things we were waiting to hear about. Because of those things, a lot of people were able to avoid being evicted and were able to stay in their homes, but some of those things started to change. Evictions started picking up again Aug. 7, and we were seeing between 117,000 and 155,000 different Kansas rental households, which makes up roughly 30 to 34 percent of all rental households in the state, were facing eviction. Because of that, we started talking with the state recovery office and other partners about what we could do to help alleviate the situation and then the CDC came out with another temporary order halting evictions through December, which is wonderful to keep people in their homes during this time when everything's still so weird.”
During COVID-19, homes have become more important than ever, Vincent said.
“Home's now not only the place where we get our shelter, but now it's also where a lot of students are getting their education through going to school online, and home's also where we're accessing doctors' appointments through telemedicine services, which has been a godsend for many people, and it's also a place where many households are now doing their shopping online so they don't have to actually go into the store, which lowers the risk of them getting sick,” Vincent said. “If you take that home away from people, they now are missing not only that physical safety but also mental health stability and other things like that. Sept. 17 was the date the state's SPARK Taskforce and finance council approved funding for this program, we were given $35 million in emergency rental assistance through the CARES Act and with that, we're estimating we can serve a minimum of 10,000 households throughout the state, so we're thrilled to have this resource.”
The program is funded through the federal CARES Act and was authorized by Gov. Laura Kelly’s SPARK Task force. Successful program applicants must meet all of the following criteria, according to the kshousingcorp.org:
- Tenant(s) have missed at least one rental payment since April 1, 2020;
- Tenant and all members of their household, if applicable, are Kansas resident(s) legally authorized to be in the United States.
- Tenant seeks rental assistance for their primary residence.
- Neither tenant nor landlord has received monthly rental assistance from other sources for the months for which they are requesting KEPP assistance.
- Tenant(s) can demonstrate that the COVID pandemic has had an adverse impact on their employment or income beginning January 20, 2020 or later. Adverse effects may include layoff due to mandated shutdowns and/or business closure, job loss, reduction of hours, or inability to work due to COVID-related illness or lack of childcare.
- Tenant’s household income is at or below 85 percent of the state median income, or $63,920 for a household of four.
- If tenant qualifies for TANF, SNAP, or LIEAP assistance, they automatically meet the program’s income requirements.
The final catalyst for creating the program, Vincent said, was the eviction moratorium extension.
“We knew people would stay safe in their homes through December, but we knew that wouldn't fully address what would happen to them afterward,” Vincent said. “It also didn't address what was going on with the landlords, many of whom are small business owners and through this time, they're also accruing bills and mortage payments and utility payments and a lot of those things. So it was well known across the board that we had to do something to help, so that's why we came up with a program that serves not only the tenants who need help but also the landlords as they're making their way through this time. I've seen data saying moderate to low-income housing providers experienced a 12 percent decline in revenue and a 15 percent increase in operating expenses just during this pandemic, so there's hurt coming from both ends for both parties.”
The timeline for the program, Vincent added, is very tight.
“We've only got until Dec. 30 to spend all the funds, which is a remarkable timeline and it's why we had to create this program in about 30 days essentially in order to get these funds out the door to help people,” Vincent said. “We've structured everything to be as efficient and effective as possible, which includes things like identifying trusted non-profits throughout the state, including in the Southwest Kansas area, whether it's Harvest America or Kansas Legal Services or Housing Credit Counseling or other agencies like that. We've worked to make everything as streamlined as possible and we've worked with the Department of Labor and Department of Revenue and the Department of Children and Families in order to make everything as efficient as we could. And if people are already taking advantage of benefits like SNAP or things like, we're able to automatically qualify them for a portion of these funds so we can get those funds to them and out the door as quickly as possible.”
Vincent said he and other staff are proud to have the program available.
“The main thing is having the benefits available and helping keep people in their homes, that has a huge economic impact not only on the tenants who have other bills to pay and other things to take care of, but it also has the tangible benefits of students being able to remain 'in school' and patients still being able to receive healthcare, and people are also able to still be part of meetings and other important gatherings,” Vincent said. “Those things are so integral to the overall mechanics of society and it's key to the survival of the state during this critical time. As of now, we're anticipating at minimum, if we can get the full $35 million out the door, this program will help 10,000 households and help them stay in their homes – those households will still be able to do trick-or-treating and host Thanksgiving dinner and unwrap Christmas presents in their homes. There's no overstating how important it is for people to have the stability of a roof over their heads. This money will also help landlords still be able to pay their bills and meet their own obligations and stay in business, and all of that is key to keeping economy going.”
With the tight timeline, Vincent added it is a good idea for potential applicants to apply as soon as possible. The application is available at https://kshousingcorp.org/eviction-prevention-program.
“I would encourage them to do it now, and also make sure they're communicating with their landlord/tenant about their challenges,” Vincent said. “And this is a first come, first served program and while $35 million sounds like a lot, it could all be used up very quickly. We've created a system that's as user-friendly as possible and I encourage everyone who's wanting to apply to check out the Web site through kshousingcorp.org, watch the tutorial and go from there. And if you find you're struggling a bit with the system, you can get ahold of us and we'll help you through it. It's better they get their application in as soon as possible because again, it is a first come, first served program and we want to get the funds out there and helping people as soon as we can. We're working really hard to get the word out about this program being available, we want to help as many people as we can. We're working with a lot of media partners and other state entities to make this as successful as possible. This is not political issue, this is a real-life situation that's happening where many people are struggling and need help keeping a roof over their head, and making sure people are stable in that regard is a key part of the success of the state as we work through this whole situation.”