Douglas County’s Housing Stabilization Collaborative to switch rent and utility assistance distribution to lottery system

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

The Douglas County Human Services Building, 2518 Ridge Court, is pictured Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. The office houses the county's human services program manager, Gabi Sprague.

Douglas County’s Housing Stabilization Collaborative is changing the way it distributes rent and utility assistance funds in hopes of increasing equity for applicants, the county announced Wednesday.

The HSC, which is the county’s local rent and utility assistance provider, is shifting from a first-come, first-served approach to a lottery system, citing an overwhelming need for rent and utility assistance in the county and a lack of available funding to meet that need. The first-come, first-served method has been in place since the HSC first began its rent and utility assistance program in the fall of 2020.

Per a press release from the county, the lottery system should also give the HSC a better idea of what the gap is between the number of applications being submitted and the funding that remains available.

“The first-come, first-served process favored those who could type the fastest, access a computer or have someone doing the application on their behalf,” Douglas County’s human services program manager, Gabi Sprague, said in the release. “The lottery system removes that barrier and is best practice in communities where funding cannot meet the need.”

The HSC will stick with its current system for February before moving to the lottery system for March. Under the current system, applications have opened on the first day of each month at 9 a.m. and qualified applications have been fulfilled until available funding runs out or applicants reach their annual maximum limit for assistance. The last time this will happen is Feb. 1.

Applications for folks who want to receive assistance in March — when the switch to the lottery system begins — can be submitted between Feb. 15 and March 1; then qualified applications will be randomly selected on March 2.

The HSC has also elected to lower the assistance cap per household from $2,205 plus $100 for each dependent to $1,500 plus $100 for each dependent.

As the Journal-World reported, the HSC’s largest source for that funding has just about run dry. The Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance program, which was established using federal COVID-19 pandemic relief funds and facilitated through the nonprofit Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, is on a final hold phase after receiving enough applications to exhaust its current funding. Douglas County households received nearly $20 million in KERA assistance from March of 2021 to November of 2022.

The HSC itself distributed another $1.8 million in rent and utility assistance funded by local sources — including the county, the City of Lawrence and the Emergency Food and Shelter Program — during that same period. As of Wednesday, it has $887,694 available for distribution through the end of 2023.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify when the new lottery system begins.


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