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Parson signs bill to OK $324 million for rental aid

Gov. Mike Parson signed into law Thursday legislation allocating $324 million in funding for rental assistance — part of the COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress in December.

The funds are available for both tenants and landlords through the Missouri Housing Development Commission

The federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program includes up to 12 months of assistance for rental arrears, forward rental assistance, utility arrears and utility forward assistance. Utility assistance includes electricity, gas, water and sewer, trash removal and certain energy costs.

“COVID-19’s economic impacts have created hard times for many Missourians, and we are happy to provide this immediate relief,” Parson said in a press release. 

The application for landlords has been available on the state’s website since Jan. 4, through the CARES Act Emergency Solutions Grant funds that the state received last year.  

About $2 million of the $15 million that the state allocated to the program has gone out to landlords, Missouri Housing Development Commission Director Kip Stetzler said at a Jan. 26 hearing on the bill.

The application for renters will be available soon after the governor signs the bill, Stetzler said. It was not yet live on the MHDC website. 

In Missouri, the estimated rental shortfall is between $294 million and $417 million, according to an independent study from the National Council on State Housing Agencies. The estimated number of Missouri households at risk of eviction are between 150,000 to 230,000, Stetzler said.

Although President Joe Biden’s administration extended the federal moratorium on evictions through March, evictions are still occurring throughout the state.

During the hearing, legislators expressed concern about whether MDHC has the capacity to get the rental assistance out the door quickly.

Before the onset of the pandemic, the commission administered only about $3 million of housing assistance a year.

The commission has spent less than half of the $28 million in CARES Act funding for housing assistance that’s been available since December.

About $10 million of that federal funding has been awarded to local nonprofits and agencies to provide this rental and utility assistance, Stetzler said. And $2 million has gone out through the landlord rental arrears program.

Stetzler estimates that the applications take about 10 days to process.

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said he had heard from groups that mediate eviction cases between tenants and landlords that the ERAP application could take five to 10 hours to complete. Merideth asked the director if there was a way to streamline the application process.

“No, that’s always the challenge,” Stetzler said. “We have to balance out trying to get this money out the door as quickly as possible to those that need it. But also making sure that we keep an eye on applications from folks that don’t qualify.”

This article by Rebecca Rivas is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.

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