ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, people are continuing to need assistance with rent payments and other bills and Tuesday, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly and the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation announced $200 million in statewide rental assistance has been made available. The initiative, funded through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, provides the state with $200 million to support housing stability and prevent evictions and homelessness. Kansans struggling to cover rent and utility payments due to COVID may qualify for up to 12 months of emergency assistance with this funding.
“COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for Kansans, and it is more important than ever to keep our families safe in their homes,” Gov. Kelly noted in a release from the State of Kansas. “The $200 million funding for rental assistance will go a long way to prevent evictions and homelessness, and ensure Kansans can stay sheltered and secure while we continue to fight this virus.”
KHRC Executive Director Ryan Vincent said it was only a few weeks ago when the KHRC found out about the funding.
“Through our national advocacy groups, we learned there was the statewide rental assistance included in the most recent relief bill passed by Congress, and then we were in discussions with the administration of the Recovery Office about KHRC being designated as the lead entity to disburse that funding, and we officially got that word Jan. 11,” Vincent said. “It’s very rewarding because we'd seen through our Kansas Eviction Prevention Program (KEPP) how enormous the need was out there right now for this assistance. With that program, we had only about 60 days to get that money disbursed, and we ultimately helped about 10,000 tenanted households throughout the state through that, along with about 4,000 landlords, and all of those were households who were facing eviction. We knew people would continue needing assistance as the winter continued, and it's still out there. We're very grateful to be able to provide this type of assistance and have these resources to help Kansans. Our most recent data shows about 30 to 44 percent of our state's tenanted households are facing eviction or behind on their rent for some reason, so we're happy to be part of the solution for these people.”
Overall, Vincent added, the application process is similar to KEPP.
“It's actually very similar to the KEPP and there are only a few differences. One key difference is this time, not only can we provide rental assistance, we can also provide utility assistance, which has been especially prevalent given the arctic conditions we just experienced these past couple weeks. As far as eligibility, that's the same as KEPP and we have to have information from both the renter(s) and the landlord(s),” Vincent said. “Another thing there's an income requirement, applicants may qualify for assistance if they earn no more than 80 percent of their area’s median income, are experiencing documented financial hardship as a result of the COVID pandemic and may be at risk of housing instability or homelessness without assistance, and again, that's part of the information we'll be asking to gather from everyone who applies.”
Kansans may apply through the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance (KERA) program administered by KHRC. The online application will open March 15, 2021. Based on the needs seen through KEPP, Vincent said he and his staff anticipate seeing a lot of need again throughout the state.
“In the roughly 60 days KEPP program was in statewide operation, we received 10,138 applications for more than $25 million requested in assistance, representing 27,200 Kansans financially impacted by COVID-19,” Vincent said. “If anyone is needing this assistance, I would encourage them to think it now, and also make sure they're communicating with their landlord/tenant about their challenges. We're going to open the application starting March 15 and then I believe we'll be closing it Aug. 1, we're wanting to be very aggressive with this program. We've created a system that's as user-friendly as possible and I encourage everyone who's wanting to apply to do so. And if you find you're struggling a bit with the system, you can get ahold of us via e-mail through the KHRC Web site, and we'll help you through it. It's better they get their application in as soon as possible because again, we want to get the funds out there and helping people as soon as we can. I can't yet give a definitive turnaround time for applicants, because we are still waiting on some guidance from the Department of Treasury as far as some administrative requirements, but we will be working as quickly as possible to get this money out to people.”
With the pandemic still raging, Vincent said it is now more important than ever for people to have stable housing.
“We've been saying ever since the pandemic started how home is so important right now, and how everyone deserves a safe and comfortable shelter to go to, especially during a time when things are still rather weird, and home is also where memories are made and shared and everything, and that deserves to be protected,” Vincent said. “All of these people have mortgages to pay and other bills, and right now, there's a lot of assistance needed for those people especially if they lost their job or are currently furloughed or whatever their circumstances happen to be. Home has always been a place of shelter, but in the midst of the pandemic it’s also become our virtual workplace, classroom, and gathering space. Rental assistance protects Kansans’ access to home when they need it most. Kansas has long had an issue with quality, affordable housing, and COVID-19 has made that issue even worse, especially for those who are currently out of work and struggling with bills and other issues. So we want to do everything we can to help people.”