With $270M available for Kansans, state housing agency encourages tenants and landlords to seek aid to avoid evictions
photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World File Photo
There is still around $270 million available for Kansans financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the end of the eviction moratorium looming, those administering the funds are encouraging both tenants and landlords to seek aid to avoid evictions.
The Kansas Housing Resources Corporation was awarded two approximately $150 million installments of emergency rental assistance from federal pandemic relief packages, and so far has provided about $30.4 million in rental, utility and internet assistance, according to Executive Director Ryan Vincent. Vincent said that left about $270 million that is available to all Kansans and that can be distributed through 2025.
“We are not going to run out of this money; it’s available,” Vincent said. “Part of our goal is to make sure it’s known that this resource is not only here now, but it’s going to be here through 2025.”
The Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance program, or KERA, can pay up to 12 months of back rent as well as other housing-related expenses, and Vincent stressed that the goal was to help keep tenants in their homes and provide payment to landlords who are owed back rent.
“For a landlord, our message is don’t evict,” Vincent said. “Apply for KERA and make yourself whole.”
In addition to going toward past-due rent, the assistance can cover up to three months of prospective rent at a time, even if the tenant does not owe back rent, according to the KERA program website. Landlords and tenants apply via a joint online process, and if the application is approved, the landlord receives funds directly from KERA to apply to the tenant’s account. Assistance can also go toward past-due or prospective utility or internet bills, as well as fees associated with past-due rent or bills. The rent or bills must have been charged after April 1, 2020.
Vincent stressed that though such conversations could be uncomfortable, tenants who owe back rent should be talking to their landlords and letting them know they have applied for KERA assistance, as that may prevent a landlord from pursuing eviction. For tenants who have already received an eviction notice, he said the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation has provided Kansas Legal Services a grant so that it can assist KERA applicants facing immediate eviction free of charge and hopefully keep them protected from eviction until the assistance is provided. Vincent said the organization was also preparing to launch another program within the next couple of weeks that will provide hotel vouchers for people who have been evicted while they seek new housing.
A national eviction moratorium was allowed to temporarily expire at the end of July, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issuing a new, more limited moratorium a few day later that will last through Oct. 3. Under the new rules, as long as a county is categorized as having substantial or high spread of COVID-19, then the eviction moratorium would remain in place. As before, any unpaid rent will still accrue, and tenants can be evicted for nonpayment once the moratorium expires. Currently, Douglas County, like much of the country, is categorized as having high transmission, according to the CDC website.
Other housing issues
In addition to the eviction moratorium, various utility providers temporarily discontinued service disconnections during the pandemic. Black Hills and Evergy Energy have resumed disconnections. The City of Lawrence, which provides water, sewer and trash service, has not yet resumed disconnections, and the city has launched an assistance program to help residents pay the $1.7 million collectively owed in back bills.
At least one Lawrence social service agency has been receiving an increase in calls recently. Kyle Roggenkamp, development director for the Ballard Center, said calls began to pick up a few months ago after some utility providers resumed disconnections and that the center was hearing from people who had bills of more than $1,000.
Roggenkamp said the center was getting about 40 phone calls a day from people concerned about back bills, and in recent weeks has started hearing from more people concerned about back rent and potential eviction.
“We are getting more phones calls than we ever have for rent or utilities,” Roggenkamp said.
Teresa Baker, program manager and interim executive director at Housing and Credit Counseling, said the center has not seen an increase in evictions due to COVID-related issues, but has noticed other trends that can cause issues for renters. Baker said that in the past several months, they have noticed a rise in renters saying their landlords were not renewing their leases. In addition, she said there seemed to be an increase in tenants reporting that their landlords were selling their rentals.
Baker speculates that some landlords are selling their rentals because it’s a seller’s market. She said other landlords are selling because they are irritated about the eviction moratoriums or can no longer afford their monthly mortgage due to the moratoriums.
“No matter the reason, this could cause an issue for those renters who may be priced out of the rental market if the new investors increase the rent to make up for the fact that home prices have increased significantly,” Baker said.
Vincent said while the work of administering emergency programs related to the pandemic was important, the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation would also be working with the Kansas Legislature to study and address the state’s housing issues. He said those included a lack of safe affordable housing, lack of contractors and rising costs.
In addition to Kansas Legal Services, Lawrence residents seeking assistance with landlord disputes or eviction can get free services from Housing and Credit Counseling, which serves Lawrence and Topeka. The center has both tenant and mortgage counselors, and those who need assistance or have questions can call 800-383-0217. Baker has also encouraged tenants who owe back rent or utilities to apply for assistance from the KERA program.
Applying to the KERA program
So far, 11,825 households have applied to KERA, of which 5,644 have been provided assistance while 2,824 applications remain in process, according to the KERA website.
Vincent said that while there was a backlog of applications as the program got set up and built up its capacity, they are now funding about 500 applications per week, amounting to $3 to $4 million in aid weekly. He said for applications that are submitted with the required documentation, the program is providing funding “within a matter of weeks.”
“There really is no backlog or no delay once we get a completed application,” Vincent said.
Regarding the unprocessed applications, Vincent said those are generally waiting for supporting documentation from either the tenant or the landlord that is required by the program, such as income documentation or lease agreements. Vincent said applicants should be sure to go over the eligibility requirements and submit the required documentation, then watch their email and phone for communications once their application is submitted so they can quickly respond in case something in missing.
While the application can be submitted online, Vincent said people could also search by county on the program’s website to find partnering agencies that will help them apply in person. In Douglas County, East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corp., or ECKAN, which has locations in Lawrence and Ottawa, has partnered with the program to provide that assistance.
To be eligible for the program, tenants must meet certain income requirements; at least one member of the tenant household must have experienced documented financial hardship as a result of the pandemic; and at least one member of the household must be at risk of becoming homeless or must be uncertain of where they will stay without housing assistance, according to the website. Hardship may include loss of employment, reduction in household income, or significant COVID-related expenses such as medical bills, personal protective equipment, child care costs, equipment or internet costs to enable online work or schooling.
More information about eligibility criteria and a link to apply is available on the program website, kshousingcorp.org.