Federal aid flows to struggling renters

By Jeff Fox
The Examiner

The Community Services League is working to get federal money for pandemic-related rental assistance into the hands of landlords and utilities, keeping hundreds of local families in their homes. 

The Jackson County Legislature in late March approved $11 million from Washington to flow into the community via CSL and, for renters’ legal assistance, through the United Way of Greater Kansas City. 

The Community Services League started taking applications April 5 and by June 24 had taken 2,128 – 60 percent from Independence and 14 percent from Blue Springs, CSL President and CEO Doug Cowan told legislators this week. 

“And so we've worked very hard to get that money out the door as quick as possible,” Cowan said.  

As the current pace, Cowan said, he conservatively estimates that the group will have to stop taking applications by late summer and all the federal money will be out the door by Thanksgiving. 

“We will exhaust every penny of the funds,” he said.  

Officials at Monday’s Legislature meeting said there’s hope that the federal government will make more money available.  

As of June 24, CSL had distributed $2.96 million on behalf of 677 families. Close to another $3 million in encumbered funds is due to be distributed soon, Cowan added. 

Cowan said the typical family seeking help has been about three months late on rent and about one-quarter are at some point in the eviction process. That typical family has gotten about $3,800 in aid – three months back rent, the current month’s rent and two months ahead, plus utilities. 

The program has proven to be “a very viable alternative to eviction,” he said. 

Landlords are struggling to make it through this tough patch as well, Cowan said. Many have told him that they’ve put off upgrades to their properties, and getting the money flowing to them should mean those upgrades will start again. With rare exceptions, CSL makes direct payments to landlords and utilities. 

Federal money is also coming for people struggling with their mortgages because of the pandemic. That program will be run by the state of Missouri. 

“There's incalculable need for mortgage assistance among Kansas City and Jackson County households,” said Jim MacDonald, the United Way’s chief community impact officer, "and this help that's on the way from the feds will be a relief to some of those households but certainly not to all of them.”