(The Center Square) – With the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s nationwide eviction moratorium ending Sunday, Missouri began the week with $560 million in Congressionally-approved pandemic housing assistance in state coffers and about 200,000 Missourians facing eviction.
Missouri’s State Assistance for Housing Relief Program (SAFHR), managed by the state’s Housing Development Commission (HDC), by Tuesday had distributed 5.2% of the $590 million in federal rental assistance funds Missouri has received or will garner in coming months.
According to SAFHR’s dashboard, it has allocated $30.617 million in rental and utility assistance to 6,100 rental assistance and 905 utility assistance applicants.
Since last March, when the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged, more than 28,000 evictions have been filed in Missouri courts and the commission estimates between 150,000 and 230,000 Missourians are now at risk for eviction, according to the HDC.
Nearly 8,500 evictions have been filed in St. Louis County alone since last March, according to Eviction Lab. In St. Louis, 126 evictions, and in St. Louis County, 100 evictions have been ordered this week. The sheriff’s office plans to enforce 30 evictions daily starting Aug. 9.
Congress passed two rounds of pandemic rental assistance totaling $46.5 billion with adoptions of the March 2020 CARES Act and March 2021 American Rescue Plan (ARP). States and local governments had only distributed 6.5% of the funding through June, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
Missouri received more than $320 million in rental assistance from the CARES Act and another $273 million from ARP, to be fully allocated through fall.
Unlike some states, Missouri never implemented a state eviction moratorium although local jurisdictions crafted pandemic protections for renters.
Unless SAFHR’s application process is streamlined – less than 6% of landlords and 11% of tenants eligible for federal pandemic assistance have applied – advocates fear the cumbersome application process could delay allocations in time to help those facing immediate evictions and are calling on courts to step in.
The St. Louis Housing Defense Collective, Action St. Louis and Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council (EHOC) members rallied at St. Louis City Hall Monday demanding the assistance money get into the hands of those who need it pronto.
EHOC’s Clarice Lipsey told reporters the pending evictions are a “crisis” that will create a new “subculture” of middle-class homelessness.
“It’s the people that were able to maintain and were middle class, but COVID hit and they can’t bounce back,” she said. “That’s going to be a new homeless.”
The angst was the same in Kansas City, which is facing a “humanitarian tragedy” unless judges, advocates and elected leaders don’t respond with alacrity, Heartland Center for Jobs & Freedom Executive Director Gina Chiala said.
The lifting of the CDC eviction moratorium “means families are going to be living in their cars. It means families are going to be packed in with other families sharing housing in a time when the Delta variant is spreading,” she said.
Chiala is one of 11 attorneys and community leaders who sent a July 29 letter to Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Wilson and presiding judges in Kansas City and St. Louis areas, calling on them to assist in developing solutions to keep people in homes.
The letter cites actions taken by judges to divert evictions, in Philadelphia, Cobb County Ga., Davidson County, Tenn., Milwaukee, Wis., and Louisville, Ky.
“The crisis is avoidable, and the solutions involve win-win outcomes for tenants and landlords alike,” the letter states. “But these solutions will be untenable without collaboration with the judiciary.”
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