St. Louis County Receives More Federal Aid To Help People Avoid Eviction
St. Louis County has received nearly $29.8 million in federal funds to help people pay back rent and utilities.
The money from the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program is aimed at keeping people in their homes and curtailing evictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic was an unexpected setback for many families, said Yusef Scoggin, St. Louis County’s director of Family and Community Services.
“We want to make sure that we get people back on their feet and are able to support them, or else we'll find a whole host of new folks falling into homelessness and that's the one thing we want to guard against,” Scoggin said.
To receive aid, renters must qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced a financial setback due to the coronavirus pandemic. They also must have at least one family member who is at risk of losing their home and must meet certain income requirements.
The federal money can help applicants with up to one year of overdue rent payments and up to three months of additional payments. Scoggin said it takes about a month to process applications. Most families receive about $5,000.
Many people who are behind on their rent do not know about rental assistance programs, said Kennard Williams, a lead organizer with Action St. Louis, a racial justice group.
“It just seems very inaccessible, considering the weights that people have to get and the amount of work that's put on the shoulders of the tenet to go through all of these hoops for these applications and try to do their end and then it comes around to them waiting for the landlord to do their end,” said Williams, who has spent weeks knocking on the doors of St. Louis County residents who face eviction to offer help with applications.
County officials are working on making the application process more accessible via computer. After completing online applications, applicants can check their status online or over the phone. Officials also are educating landlords who are wary about the process and do not receive the available rental assistance.
Williams said he would like the funds to go directly into the hands of renters, instead of to landlords as the payments do now.
“If we know that there are people who are opting to not participate in the program and tenants are facing evictions, at the very least, the tenants should be able to have access to that so they can do it themselves,” Williams said.
To eliminate evictions, St. Louis County is prioritizing low-income applicants and those facing imminent eviction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and St. Louis County paused evictions through June 30.
“It's about salvaging the lives and not creating cycles of trauma as people are displaced,” Scoggin said. "These are families that, for the most part, all are applying for these funds, and we need to be cognizant about the impact that there is not just in the short run, but in the long run.”
Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist