About 150 Douglas County families who are living on the financial edge are expected to receive a boost from a new federal grant awarded to Lawrence housing leaders on Thursday.
The city and the Douglas-County Housing Authority will receive $648,000 as part of a federal stimulus program designed to provide rental and utility assistance to people who are on the verge of becoming homeless or have recently lost their homes.
“We think this will be huge for some families,” said Margene Swarts, the city’s assistant director of Planning and Development Services, which applied for the grant. “For some families, we think it will be the difference between staying in a home or being on the street.”
The program — which will distribute money countywide — will be able to provide up to three months worth of rental assistance to people in danger of being evicted. The program also will be able to help people who face eviction because of past-due utility bills.
In addition, the program will work to find housing for people who have recently lost their homes. Much of the money will be used to fund the Housing Authority’s new e-Housing Connection program that attempts to connect landlords who have vacant apartments with people in need of a home.
The program has been running since January, but has had little money to pay out to landlords. Since January, the program has successfully housed 11 people.
“We’re definitely hoping that more landlords will participate as they see there is a solid stream of funding for the program,” said Heather Hoy, who coordinates the program for the Housing Authority. “We think this can be a win-win because there are definitely a lot of landlords out there who have properties that have been sitting vacant for quite awhile.”
The new grant money is expected to be available for local leaders to spend by early November. People can apply for assistance through the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, or through case managers with other social service agencies such as ECKAN or the Ballard Center. None of the money will be paid directly to individuals or households, but instead to third parties such as landlords or utility companies.
The money won’t be available to people who are facing foreclosure on a home that they own. The funding also can’t be used to help finance the construction of a new homeless shelter, which is currently being planned by the Lawrence Community Shelter.
Swarts said the program is not designed to provide assistance to the chronically homeless, but rather is aimed at providing short-term help to people who are facing a sudden financial crisis.
The list of area residents in that category is growing quickly, social service leaders said. Hoy said she has 36 households on the waiting list for an apartment through the e-Housing Connector, with the majority being single mothers. The Lawrence Community Shelter also has seen a significant increase in the number of families seeking to stay at is homeless shelter.
“There are just a lot of people who have lost their jobs, are experiencing furloughs or have had their hours cut,” said Swarts. “If this program can pay three months of their rent, that is three months that they can concentrate on feeding their families, finding better employment and just getting their lives in order.”
The grant money is part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s new Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program. The city was awarded the money through the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation.