TOPEKA (KSNT) – The Supreme Court decided to overturn the federal eviction moratorium on Friday. The Supreme Court’s decision could spell out a tragic tale for thousands of Kansans at risk of losing their homes.
Ryan Vincent, Executive Director of Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, said projections from this past month showed a vast amount of Kansans could be impacted.
“Between 12,000 and 24,000 households in our state are currently at risk of eviction,” Vincent said.
It’s a sad fate for many Kansans that are thousands of dollars behind on rent, as they struggle financially, during the pandemic. Vincent said that applications for rental assistance in the state are averaging over $5,000 per household. He said this comes as the state is at the “forefront” of a housing crisis.
“We’ve got a lack of safe, affordable housing. We’ve got rent prices going up, while incomes have been stagnant. We have housing prices for homes sky-rocketing,” Vincent said.
While the federal eviction moratorium may be coming to an end, state rental assistance remains available through the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance, KERA, program. Those funds are available through 2025. But, there may be a waiting period as applications roll in.
Randall Simmons, a tenant in Topeka, said while he’s faced his own financial hurdles during the pandemic, he’s been able to get by. Others that he knows haven’t been as lucky. Some have had to find shelter elsewhere, as they wait for help.
“There’s a lot of people that have to do a lot worse than I have, that are in worse shape,” Simmons said. “If you can’t afford to pay your rent around here, you got to go to the city mission. That’s where most of them end up at.”
One advocacy group, Rent Zero Kansas, has been vocal about the need to help low-income Kansans that are still being evicted, facing utility shut-offs, or don’t qualify for rental assistance.
Earlier this year, in a press release, Vince Munoz, an organizer for the activist group, pointed to a public dashboard released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, comparing emergency rental assistance programs across the country.
Munoz said Kansas’ rental program is not among the states listed in the dashboard that provide assistance directly to tenants, and noted that this could create a problem for renters, who are also instructed to apply for assistance with their landlords through a joint-online process. According to the KERA website, if the application is approved, the landlord or service provider receives funds directly from KERA and applies KERA funds to the applicant’s account.
“The Kansas Housing Resources Corporation should follow the 75 other programs nationwide in sending relief directly to renters. This would help prevent landlords from arbitrarily declining rent payments from assistance, which we’ve seen happen recently in Manhattan.”VINCE MUNOZ, RENT ZERO KANSAS
According to the advocacy group, In late January, Manhattan tenants Alice Nondorf and her fiancé, Gary LaBarge, were evicted despite each being eligible for more than $5,000 in rental assistance. Their landlord, Rodney Steven III, whose family also owns Genesis Fitness Clubs, declined to accept the assistance.
However, Vincent told Kansas Capitol Bureau on Friday that the state’s assistance program does allow for direct payment to renters in these unique situations. He said these cases fall within the “minority,” as most landlords welcome the ability to recover money from past payments.
The state’s housing corporation has also issued a statewide housing survey with the goal of collecting information from community members and stakeholders to identify the current housing needs.
The Executive Director also said a Kansas Housing Assistance Fund is expected to launch sometime in the coming months, either later this year or early next year, once funds are approved. The funds will be used to help homeowners that may be struggling to pay their mortgage, taxes, or utility bills.
Vincent said, in the meantime, while the KERA is available to tenants, the corporation’s message to landlords is “don’t evict.”
“If a landlord ultimately evicts, rather than wait for assistance, then they may be out of that entire amount of back rent that the tenant hasn’t been paying during this moratorium.”
To learn more about the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance (KERA) Program, click here.