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Help for struggling local renters is on the way

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net

Jackson County officials are working with United Way of Greater Kansas City and other agencies to distribute more than $11.5 million in federal funds for rental assistance. 

“We’re putting together a program that will involve all of the local service programs in Eastern Jackson County,” County Administrator Troy Schulte told county legislators.

The county has received the funds, Schulte said last Thursday, and is holding them until it receives full guidance from the federal government, noting how rules with CARES Act funds last year would get changed.

Schulte said about $200,000 from the $11.5 million will be used in the Circuit Court system to address citizens “already in the eviction pipeline,” but a vast majority of funds will go through the United Way and partnering agencies, such as the Community Services League in Eastern Jackson County and Sugar Creek’s Citizens Civic Relief Commission.

The funds come from $25 billion allocated by the Consolidated Appropriations Act that Congress passed shortly before Christmas and President Trump approved Dec. 27. County officials said that, separately, Kansas City was scheduled to receive $14.3 million. 

“We’ve asked all of the cities in the county to give us a preferred provider in the county that can identify folks needing rental assistance,” Schulte said. 

That certainly will include the Community Services League, which through the pandemic has distributed more than $3 million in rental and utility assistance among other family support services, said Doug Cowan, the organization’s president/CEO.

“We have been working with potential partners to create a network of support throughout Jackson County,” Cowan said, knowing that contracts have not yet been finalized.

The U.S. Treasury will have rules about the program’s implementation and eligibility, “and we are working quickly to make sure our efforts would be in compliance,” he said.

So far, Cowan said, rules will require that eligible households have at least one family member who:

• Qualifies for unemployment or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced a financial hardship due to COVID-19.

• Demonstrates a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability.

• Has a household income at or below 80 percent of the area median.

“Our technology platform has to support the upload of many documents to verify the criteria,” Cowan said. “It’s a little more complicated than assistance through the CARES Act.” 

Noting that Kansas City is receiving separate funds – and more of them, given that funds are population-based – Legislature Chair Dan Tarwater emphasized that the county work with the United Way to avoid overlapping coverage with Kansas City and “help as many people as possible.”

“The more people we can help,” Tarwater said, “the better for our economy and everything else.”

Schulte confirmed that’s their intent.

“We’re going to try and create a unified program,” he said.