Kansas agency under pressure to speed up aid, prevent evictions
State agency is pushing to process hundreds of requests for coronavirus relief funds from Kansas tenants facing eviction and their landlords after spending weeks this spring hiring and training more than 100 new employees to to do work.
The state’s Housing Resources Corporation handles most of the emergency rental aid in Kansas, and most of its money has yet to be distributed. Questions about how quickly rents and overdue tenant utility bills are paid became even more pressing Thursday night when the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a federal moratorium on evictions.
States, cities and counties have until 2025 to spend some of the dollars, but the federal government hoped 65% of the first aid tranche – $ 15.7 billion in total – would come out before October 1 . Although the state’s largest city, Wichita, has achieved this with its own program, the Kansas Real Estate Agency, like such agencies in most states and most cities and counties with their own programs. , was nowhere near the end of July, the US Treasury Department reported this week.
“It’s just not that the money gets out to people fast enough,” said Dustin Hare, an organizer for the renter advocacy group Rent Zero Kansas.
The Kansas agency currently completes about 500 requests per week, said executive director Ryan Vincent. The Treasury Department said the agency distributed $ 21.9 million, or 11.7%, of its first aid tranche of $ 188 million at the end of July. As of Friday morning, that figure stood at $ 31.9 million, or 17%.
“Anything we can do to get those dollars is what we’re really focused on,” Vincent said.
Federal law directs the Secretary of the Treasury to recover “excess” funds and redirect them to states, cities and counties that have met the 65% target.
“I am very worried for the state that they are going to get a lot of money back,” said Sally Stang, director of the Wichita housing department.
Vincent and Stockton Williams, executive director of the state’s National Council of Housing Agencies, said such a redistribution was unlikely. They said the law simply allows the federal government to adapt when it has overestimated a region’s demand for assistance.
Vincent also said the federal government has created a “heavy administrative” program requiring his agency to procure new computer software and more than triple its normal staff of 40 to 50 people. The requests often involve multiple contacts with landlords and tenants, he said.
Vincent said the housing company is budgeting for the additional staff remaining until 2025, when the last of the aid funds will have to be spent. Agencies can use up to 10% of their funds to cover administrative costs.
The housing company had approved only one application at the end of April, but has now provided assistance to around 6,200 households. 3,900 other requests are in the process of being approved.
Williams said it was not uncommon for state agencies to increase their staff. Louisiana hired a contractor to help process the claims and now has over 120 people doing the job.
“It was an unprecedented pandemic,” said Williams. “Congress really had to create a new program and all city, county and state agencies had to figure out how to implement it on the fly.”
Vincent said he believes his agency’s processing speed now compares favorably with other states. Kansas was 13th among the states for percentage of funds spent in July, according to Treasury Department data.
Yet the agency faces pressure to move faster.
“It’s been a nightmare for everyone I’ve spoken to,” said Ed Jaskinia, an association lobbyist representing what he calls Kansas “mom and pop” owners.
Stang is not critical of the state’s program, but she believes more funds should have gone through local housing agencies like hers rather than limiting direct funding to several hundred of the country’s largest metropolitan areas.
As of Thursday, the Wichita Housing Department had distributed nearly $ 8.7 million, or 72 percent, of its $ 12 million in first-round funding, and Stang said he would have to spend the rest by the next. end of the year. Some 1,450 households received assistance.
Stang said that 70% of the landlords she deals with for emergency help already deal with the city through housing vouchers commonly known as Section 8. She hired nine new full-time temporary workers, but she also has 16 existing employees participating in the nominations. -time.
Stockton questioned whether small local housing authorities could handle the demand for emergency assistance. And Vincent said his agency is supplementing the Wichita program because funds sent directly to the city are not “his fair share.”
Meanwhile, Vincent and the Kansas Housing Corporation encourage tenants and their landlords to keep asking for help.
“We have the money,” he said. “It’s not going to run out.”
Associated Press editor Melinda Deslatte also contributed from Baton Rouge, La.