Eviction moratoriums provided temporary relief for many Kansans, but some, like Sheena Mooney, found themselves without a home during the pandemic. (Shelton Brown for Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Sheena Mooney has spent the past year without a job or a safety net living in a trailer park a few miles from Washburn.
Mooney lost her job at Frito-Lay in March 2020, a job she enjoyed, fell behind on her rent and was evicted that August. She applied for unemployment but did not qualify, and her eviction was subsequently approved between May 26, 2020, when the state’s eviction moratorium expired, and Aug. 17, 2020, when Gov. Laura Kelly’s new order went into effect.
“I don’t like telling people my business, you know. This was something that needed to be heard,” Mooney said. “How did this happen? How was I able to fall through the cracks and get no help?”
Mooney is one of the thousands who have been evicted or are facing the threat of eviction during the pandemic in Kansas. She joined Kansas housing advocates on a new episode of the Kansas Reflector podcast to discuss the realities of renting amid COVID-19.
Estimates from the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation indicate more than 27,000 Kansas are currently behind on their rent, and estimates from Zillow show about 14,600 renters are at risk of eviction.
Federal and state moratoriums have provided temporary relief for those who can prove they are unable to pay rent because of COVID-19 related circumstances, but the narrow scope has left many without protection. Even during the moratorium period, evictions proceeded in some areas.
Dave Patel, who comanages the Motel 6 in Topeka with his wife, said he has seen an influx of people staying at his hotel because of lost housing.
Vince Munoz, an organizer for the tenant advocacy group Rent Zero Kansas, said without substantive change, many more will be removed from their homes with nowhere to turn.
“Even those of us who do have a little bit of stability, we’re all just kind of teetering on the edge and we really deserve to be in a place as people where we’re not just one emergency or social issue away from losing our housing,” Munoz said.
One option available to both renters and landlords looking for relief is the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance program. The initiative led by the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation is intended to provide rent, utility and internet assistance to households experiencing hardship because of the pandemic through a joint tenant-landlord application process.
Whether it’s an unwillingness from landlords to collaborate or the slow processing pace of applications, Munoz said, the program is insufficient. Recent KHRC data shows 6,593 of 14,607 applicants have been served so far.
The U.S. Treasury last month said just 11% of the $46.5 billion approved by Congress for emergency rental assistance had been allocated. Of the $5.1 billion that was spent, $1.7 billion was doled out during July.
KHRC executives said they are processing applications in seven to 10 days.
Ryan Vincent, KHRC’s executive director, said the organization is seeking feedback to inform a new housing initiative, this time for homeowners. The Kansas Homeowner Assistance Fund, established by the American Rescue Plan Act, will aim to prevent the displacement of homeowners experiencing financial hardship associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In less than a year, we’ve provided almost $50 million in emergency rental assistance to Kansas renters, landlords and service providers,” Vincent said. “We’re proud to have helped more than 15,000 Kansas households avoid eviction and remain stably housed during the pandemic, but we know our state’s housing needs don’t stop with tenants. Kansas homeowners: Help is on the way.”
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