CSL amps up help with local housing assistance

By Mike Genet

Community Services League is one of a handful of organizations helping United Way of Greater Kansas City distribute $1.5 million worth of housing assistance to prevent evictions in the area.

A few months ago, United Way received that allocation of federal CARES Act funds from Jackson County. Community Services League received $400,000 of that to distribute to households in need, mostly around Independence, Blue Springs and the immediate surrounding areas. 

“Any Jackson County household is eligible from providers, but our footprint is Eastern Jackson County, so a vast majority of our applications are from there,” CSL Vice President Lynn Rose said. “We have had a handful, about 10 percent of applicants, from the urban core.”

The need for housing assistance can be found at all times, though the pandemic has heightened that need to some degree. But at the same time, CSL and other organizations are working with a tight timeline from the federal government. 

“Fortunately there’s a lot of money out there, but unfortunately it needs to be spent by Dec. 31, so we’re trying to get through applications quickly. Our intention is to get all $400,000 out the door, and if we need to we can request more.”

Rose said it generally is an easy process for households, which can apply for up to $10,000 apiece.

“Families attest that they’ve been affected by COVID, as long as the rental arrears and assistance is between March and now, it’s good,” Rose said. “It’s a low-barrier fund, and we don’t ask people to jump through a bunch of hoops to demonstrate need.

“We have memorandums of understanding with United Way, they sub-grant a specific amount of money to the organizations, and then we pay it down.”

Doug Cowan, CSL’s president/CEO, has said that while the pandemic presents unique circumstances and amplifies some needs, the organization is able to mobilize quickly for such programs. The housing assistance also comes as the CDC’s order against eviction for some tenants for non-payment ends expires at the end of the year. 

“We have a long legacy of partnering in this type of work,” he said. “It’s work we do all year long.

“We’re excited about this opportunity to help keep families safely housed. When a family goes homeless, that’s when it really goes downhill, and it becomes more expensive to get back into housing.”

Rose said many clients are among those CSL has helped before, but the pandemic has also led to many first-time clients.

“What we’re seeing now is folks who’ve never had to access social assistance,” she said. “They had been doing OK but were affected by job loss or hours reduction or health issues and they already went through their resources.

“That’s kind of the new wave that we’re seeing.”