Kansas no longer shields people from evictions, foreclosures
photo by: Associated Press
WICHITA — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is no longer shielding renters and homeowners who are financially strapped because of the coronavirus pandemic from being evicted or having lenders foreclose on their mortgages.
Kelly allowed an executive order that had banned new evictions and foreclosures to expire May 26. Her office confirmed Monday that the executive order no longer was in place, The Wichita Eagle reports.
The Democratic governor let the ban on evictions and mortgage foreclosures expire the same day she lifted statewide restrictions on businesses and left it to each of the state’s 105 counties to decide whether they would remain closed. The state’s unemployment rate soared to 11.2% in April from 2.8% in March after Kelly imposed a statewide stay at home order through May 3.
Renters’ advocates warned that unemployment benefits and one-time federal stimulus checks won’t be enough to keep people in their homes.
“They were getting their paperwork ready in April to file evictions and as soon as the moratorium is lifted they’re going to file them,” said Brandon Irwin, an organizer with the housing reform coalition Rent Zero Kansas.
Irwin added that what’s “distressing” and “in many ways evil” is that despite communities reopening and relaxing coronavirus rules, “There’s still people at really high risk.”
Nearly 8,600 evictions were conducted in Kansas in 2016, the latest year for which data is available, according to Eviction Lab at Princeton University. The figure represents an eviction rate of 2.3%.
Some landlords and apartment owners said evictions are likely weeks away and emphasized that they’re willing to work with tenants who have fallen behind.
Cathy Payne, who owns several rental properties in Wichita, said 40% of her renters struggled but have caught up on payments. No evictions are planned, she said.
“Some even borrowing from family to pay,” she said. “The stimulus check helped them, too.”
Kansas has reported more than 10,000 coronavirus cases since the pandemic reached the state in early March. Johns Hopkins University reported Tuesday that the state has had 220 COVID-19-related deaths, up three from Monday.
Kelly’s office said improvements in the state’s handling of unemployment claims led Kelly to allow evictions and foreclosures to proceed.
In March, the state Department of Labor’s antiquated computer systems and small staff were quickly overwhelmed by a wave of calls and online applications for unemployment benefits. On some days, calls exceeded a million.
Some Kansans were unable to obtain benefits or get through to a real person at the agency for weeks. Recently, the agency’s performance has improved and officials have dramatically reduced the number of unprocessed claims.
“As a result, the governor felt comfortable lifting this order at this time and she will continue to monitor the situation over the coming weeks and months,” Kelly spokeswoman Lauren Fitzgerald said in a statement.