Douglas County Commission approves using $125,000 in ARPA funds for rent and utility assistance

photo by: Douglas County

Members of the county staff, the board of county commissioners, and the Housing Stabilization Collaborative discuss the HSC's request for rent assistance during the commission's meeting on Sept. 15, 2021.

County leaders have approved $125,000 in rent and utility assistance that local social service agencies say is needed as they begin to see the effects of the end of the federal eviction moratorium.

As part of its meeting Wednesday, the Douglas County Commission approved a request from the Housing Stabilization Collaborative for $125,000 in assistance, comprising $100,000 for rent assistance and $25,000 for utility assistance. The funding for the assistance will come from the $23.7 million that the county will receive over the next two years from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Though millions of dollars in housing and utility assistance remain available from the federally funded Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance program, leaders with the collaborative said people are facing eviction because of the delay in getting applications processed. HSC Program Manager Gabi Sprague told the commission that there is a backlog of several weeks with KERA applications, and that the social service organizations involved with the collaborative know of at least 70 pending evictions.

Sprague said that while the KERA program has established a bridge program that assists those who have been evicted or are facing eviction while waiting on their application to process, the collaborative wanted instead to prevent evictions.

“That feels like a very reactive way of engaging with this, when I know from a landlord’s perspective, from engaging with the KERA program on behalf of tenants here in Douglas County, that we can prevent evictions if we have money now,” Sprague said.

The Housing Stabilization Collaborative was formed amid the coronavirus pandemic and works to prevent homelessness by providing rent assistance and case management, as the Journal-World previously reported. Family Promise of Lawrence initiated the program, and various other social service organizations now collaborate on the effort, including Tenants to Homeowners, the United Way of Douglas County, The Willow Domestic Violence Center, Centro Hispano, the Lawrence Community Shelter and Success by Six.

Mariel Ferreiro, also with the collaborative, said they are finding through the KERA program that conversations not only need to happen between service providers and tenants, but with landlords as well. The HSC is starting a landlord engagement arm this month, and Ferreiro said the emergency funding from the county would help incentivize and engage landlords so they could be brought into the conversation.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we have to bring everyone to the conversation,” Ferreiro said.

A national eviction moratorium was put in place in 2020 because of the pandemic. It was allowed to temporarily expire at the end of July, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new, more limited moratorium a few days later that was meant to last through Oct. 3. However, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the moratorium on Aug. 26, allowing evictions to resume. Under the moratorium, any unpaid rent still accrued, and following the court’s decision landlords could begin evicting tenants for nonpayment, even when income loss was related to the pandemic.

Commission Chair Shannon Portillo said she could hear the frustration that federal funds meant to prevent evictions were not being pushed out the door quickly enough, and that she appreciated the local efforts. Commission Vice Chair Shannon Reid also said she appreciated all the work the collaborative has been doing in the community and the efforts to be as responsive as possible to the end of the eviction moratorium.

“This is a dire need to me,” Reid said. “It’s a really urgent gap to fill essentially given the totality of circumstances, and I think that it’s a very smart, tangible use of some dollars right now.”

In other business, the commission approved a $26,000 agreement with the Corporation for Supportive Housing to conduct a needs assessment of supportive housing in the community. The assessment complements a $71,525 agreement the commission approved last week with the University of Kansas Center for Research to perform a homeless needs assessment for the county.


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