By Megan Stringer, The Wichita Eagle, original article link
The city of Wichita opened online applications Monday for residents to apply to have overdue rent and utility bills covered, as well as future bills.
Funding for the Wichita Emergency Rental Assistance Program comes from the federal economic stimulus bill passed in December. The legislation set aside money specifically for emergency rental assistance.
About $200 million went to the state of Kansas. Wichita received about $12 million.
“In unprecedented times of hardship, it’s imperative that we step up to provide security to those in need,” Sally Stang, director of housing and community services for the city of Wichita, said in a statement. “Everyone needs a little help now and then, and we want to ensure that families and individuals who need help to stay in their homes receive it.”
Wichita residents can apply for the funding at www.wichita.gov/WERAP. Applications open at 10 a.m. Monday and will be available only online.
DO I QUALIFY?
In order to qualify for the emergency aid, a household must:
- Have experienced financial impact related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This could mean losing a job, working fewer hours, receiving fewer tips, facing new child care needs or medical expenses.
- Already owe back rent to a landlord or have late utility bills. There is no minimum amount, but you must show either an eviction notice or some demand for payment.
- Have an income less than 80% of the area median income.
Despite the 80% threshold for eligibility, the city will prioritize households with an income of less than 50% of the area median income, or households with people who were employed in 2020 but have been unemployed for the 90 days prior to application.
For a family of four, 80% of the area median income is $58,100, set by federal limits. For the same family size, 50% of the area median income is $36,300. Income limits for other family sizes are available online at the application link.
Any household already enrolled in other project-based rental assistance programs, public housing or Section 8 are not eligible for the new program.
WHAT DO I NEED TO APPLY?
Residents will need the following materials to apply:
- A copy of their lease
- A copy of an eviction notice or any demands for payment on rent or utilities
- Documentation of income. This could be check stubs, an unemployment statement, a child support printout, W2s and 1099s from 2020
- Contact information for their landlord
- Documentation of COVID-19 related economic impact. This could be an unemployment statement, a termination letter, a letter from their employer about reduced hours, sufficient check stubs to document reduced hours, remote school documentation paired with a child care statement or medical bills for COVID-19 related illness.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The new program is different from prior rental aid programs because it allows the city to make forward payments on bills rather than pay only late ones.
The city will pay a landlord or utility provider directly to cover the bills.
People in need can have their rent and utility bills covered in three-month increments, up to 12 months total. If a household qualifies for the first three months, the city would work to re-certify if continued assistance is needed for the next three months.
The 12 total months can be divided between back payments and future bills. For example, the funding could cover nine months of late rent and three months in upcoming bills.
APPLICATION HELP AND QUESTIONS
Anyone who cannot easily access the internet to apply can seek help from local organizations.
All three of the city’s neighborhood resource centers will offer in-person assistance with applications during regular business hours. If you’d like to call ahead, you can reach the Atwater center at316-303-8016, the Colvin center at316-303-8029 and the Evergreen center at 316-303-8042. There’s no appointment required.
Residents can also call the Wichita Workforce Center at 316-771-6800 for help with online applications.
Anyone with questions about the city’s application can also dial 211 to seek help from the United Way of the Plains, Stang said.
AID OUTSIDE OF WICHITA
Kansans who don’t live in Wichita city limits will have access to the new federal assistance funds through the state. They can apply through the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance program, which is administered by the public Kansas Housing Resources Corporation.
Visit kshousingcorp.org/emergency-rental-assistance to learn more. Applications for the state program will open March 15.
If funding for the city of Wichita program runs out, Wichita residents can then apply for assistance through the state’s program, said Stang, the housing director.
Both the new Wichita and Kansas rental aid programs follow the expiration of the prior Kansas Eviction Prevention Program, which used $20 million in funding from the CARES Act to help renters and landlords meet their obligations.
That program operated for about two months and received 10,138 applications requesting more than $25 million in assistance, according to the governor’s office. It represented 27,200 Kansans financially impacted by COVID-19.
“Home has never been more important,” said Ryan Vincent, KHRC executive director, in a statement. “Home has always been a place of shelter, but in the midst of the pandemic it’s also become our virtual workplace, classroom, and gathering space. Rental assistance protects Kansans’ access to home when they need it most.”