The City of Kansas City, Mo., announced the launch of a new program to help households struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Thursday, March 4, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas announced that $4.5 million is immediately available for Kansas Citians needing rental or utility relief. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program will help tenants get caught up on past due rent and utility bills.
“During this time, we have always worked on ways to get people in housing, to make sure that they can stay in housing, to make sure that it’s affordable, but also to make sure that when people are having rough times, we have a way to help them out,” Lucas said.
The program is part of a $14.8 million funding package that has been approved by the City Council and made possible with federal funding from the stimulus package passed by Congress in December.
“While we fight this pandemic, I remain committed to helping every Kansas City family and every Kansas City child remain in their homes,” Lucas said. “Today, I am proud to announce another round of funding to provide emergency rental and utility assistance for those who need it. Still, there is much more to be done, and we will continue our work to help keep people in their homes, connect those who need it with long-term housing, job training services, and more, to help keep Kansas Citians warm, healthy, and safe.”
Those in need of assistance can fill out a registration form, where they will report the amount of assistance needed. Those applying will be asked to complete a full application and provide supporting documents related to identification, household income and financial need. They will be put on a waiting list, and then one of the agencies the City is working with will contact them to set up services.
“Ultimately we will have an electronic application that all agencies that we are contracted with can access, and that application will allow them to work with individual households who are eligible under this program,” said John Wood, Director of Neighborhood and Housing Services. “If you go to kcmo.gov to [Neighborhood and Housing Services Department] you’ll see, first thing, about rental help, it’s the first link that you see on our page.”
For the mayor who grew up moving around, knowing that sometimes it was tough for his mother to pay the full rent or make ends meet, and knowing how hard it is having to relocate, he said the City wants to fill the gap before families are confronted with homelessness.
Residents can still call 311 for help, but with many seeking services online, the City has created a landing page on its website, kcmo.gov/renthelp.
“Our goal is very simple, to make sure that everybody who’s in need during this time has an opportunity long before you’re talking about homelessness, long before you’re talking about evictions, long before you’re talking about so many of the other challenges we have,” Lucas said. “We want to make sure people have a place that they can stay.”
At the core, this is what local government should do, Lucas said. On March 3, he visited people experiencing homelessness in several camps, including on the front lawn of City Hall. He asked them about their experiences and how they reached this point, and how they could be helped.
“That’s why we’re partnering with organizations like these, we understand sometimes it’s more than housing. It’s mental health. It’s looking out for them. It’s making sure they have a way that they can lift themselves up through jobs, education, resources,” Lucas said.
This is just the beginning of so much more work that residents will be seeing over the next year from Kansas City government, Lucas said.
“We have money, we’re going to spend it effectively, and we’re going to make sure we make a difference.” Lucas said.
The funds will be distributed through the community in a fair, fast and equitable way by several community agencies, according to the City. The COVID relief funds are being distributed through existing community agencies because they specialize in providing these services and know how to effectively help those who need immediate help, Wood said.
“This direct financial assistance is one of the many ways we are working to bring much needed relief and support to the people of Kansas City,” said City Manager Brian Platt. “Our residents will see us continue to expand programs that help people stay in their homes, help small businesses stay open, and help our city recover from the current economic crisis.”
The City has finalized contracts with five agencies to provide immediate financial relief to residents struggling to meet their day-to-day housing needs. This initial funding is earmarked specifically for rental and utility assistance.
Metropolitan Lutheran Ministry (MLM) has been granted $2.5 million to distribute. They have an online application, https://www.mlmkc.org/rent—utility.html, or can be reached at 816-514-2683. Paper applications are available at 3031 Holmes Rd. & 1100 NE Vivion Rd.
“We cannot say how thankful we are to have the ability to administer these very important and necessary rent and utility assistance funds to the residents of Kansas City, Mo.,” said Becky Poitras, development director with MLM. “We have been a proud partner of the City of Kansas City for numerous years, and to have the city put their trust in MLM. It speaks. I have no words. We love the fact that we are able to meet the needs of the homeless, and at risk and our community.”
In 2019, MLM served over 26,000 individuals with their food and housing services. In 2020, they served over 56,000 individuals.
“Our CARES Act dollars helped families stay housed,” Poitras said. “We help them to avoid homelessness, and with these new stimulus dollars, we’re going to help even more families stay housed if they are facing housing instability. Whether it’s in Kansas City south of the river or Kansas City north of the river, MLM has multiple locations that can serve these households.”
Journey to New Life, 3120 Troost Ave., has been granted $500,000. Those seeking assistance can call 816-960-4808 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get connected.
“We have actually already spent $360,000 for housing assistance with COVID relief funds, we have served over 220 people and families,” said Georgia Walker, Executive Director of Journey to New Life. “These are folks that, some of them, have experienced homelessness before in their life, others of which have never had this type of hardship in terms of financial hardship with rental assistance and utility assistance.”
Walker said Journey to New Life will spend the money quickly because there are so many people in need. Many of their clients work in fast food or at hotels, or are single parents dealing with online school, which makes it hard to maintain employment.
“We’re not talking about people that owe a year’s rent, we’re talking about people that are three or four months behind that are being threatened with evictions, even with the eviction moratorium,” Walker said. “So it’s very very important and we’re trying to spend the money as efficiently and quickly as we can to relieve people of this financial burden, which then becomes an emotional burden. Thank you so much.”
“This rent and utility assistance comes at a time where many people in our city are facing eviction and utility shut offs,” said Susie Roling of Journey for New Life. “We have helped over 200 families with this assistance. We are excited and eager to do more to help the most vulnerable of our community.”
reStart has been given $500,000. reStart can be reached at 816-886-9153 or by emailing email@example.com.
“It is absolutely critical that we keep people housed,” said Stephanie Boyer, CEO at reStart. “There are so many people that are calling for assistance. We saw through the course of the pandemic last year, we used to get five calls a day for emergency assistance; it quickly went to 25 calls a day. The need is great. We are very excited to be able to help administer this, and keep people from falling into homelessness.”
Boyer said the system of homelessness is traumatic, and the organizations want no one in this city to have to fall into. She urged anyone that is concerned for any reason about their housing status to reach out. If they are not eligible for this program, the organizations will find some way to ensure they stay housed.
Community Assistance Council (CAC) has been granted $500,000. Those seeking assistance can call (816) 763-3277.
“CAC is the frontline of homelessness prevention in South Kansas City,” said Rachel Casey from CAC. “Our goal is to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place. Families have been hit hard. We’re trying our best to keep up and give everything that we could get, funds we can get in the door and back out the door, to keep families in homes.”
A year ago, CAC was gettin about 25 phone calls a day. Now, in just a 24-hour period, they are receiving 130 calls for assistance. She noted that the majority of calls CAC is getting now are people who are new to any kind of assistance, and that they’re scared and don’t know what to do.
Synergy Services will distribute $450,000 through existing referrals.
“If you’ve ever needed a few extra dollars to get by, this is the sort of program that can help you with that,” Lucas said. “We will continue to invest in a number of different things, enhancements to our Office of Neighborhood and Housing Services, so that we can address issues that you hear tenants talking about, but we also want to make sure that we have money to help people right now, to help people today.”
Lucas said when talking to public schools about students’ challenges, one of the greatest factors is the fact that they’re moving around all the time, that they’re dealing with so many different issues, going from place to place.
“This is us trying to make sure that we have that stability so people can get to employment, so they can know their bus line, so they can do so much,” Lucas said. “Last year we passed the most equitable budget in the history of this city, and I think we continue, even in times of budget challenges, to have zero fair transit, to invest in rental assistance, to invest in the warming center at Bartle Hall, and then float future hotel opportunities. Those are the sorts of things that we’ll continue to work on to make sure Kansas citians can be taken care of and that’s why I’m proud of the efforts we do, we can always do better.”
While the warming center at Bartle Hall is nearing the end of its season, the City is working on a few strategies, including two different hotel opportunities and continued wraparound services.
While $4.5 million was allocated last week, Lucas said that leaves the City about $10 million more to make sure that those efforts are continued.
“What we absolutely will not do is just have a transition where we’re telling everybody, ‘You’ve got to get out, there’s no solution.’ Kansas City will make sure we take care of folks, and I think, continue to be a regional leader in connection with that.”
Additional agencies will soon be on board to help distribute the emergency assistance citywide. A complete list of agencies and their contact information can be found at kcmo.gov/renthelp.