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St. Louis Opens Rental Aid Clinics To Get Faster Help To People Who Face Eviction

Theo R. Welling
For St. Louis Public Radio
Madison Janssen, a St. Louis city employee, volunteers her time to help a tenant process a rental aid application at a pop-up clinic at Horizon Housing Development Co. on Wednesday.

St. Louis officials are ramping up their efforts to offer rental assistance to people who face eviction.

Horizon Housing Development Co. in south St. Louis and Wohl Recreation Center in north St. Louis on Wednesday began helping the city disburse a portion of $1.5 million in local funds to people who are behind on rent.

The pop-up clinics, which opened Wednesday, will prioritize people who face immediate eviction and help those who need assistance with applications in person, said Grace Kyung, the city's senior strategic initiatives manager.

“We want to make sure that individuals who are seeking rental assistance or utility assistance, we are removing as many barriers as possible,” Kyung said.

City officials introduced the program to help provide direct rent payments to renters even if their landlords do not cooperate with the rental aid process.

Housing advocates say renters face many challenges when seeking help through the state and local rental aid programs. Some landlords are not providing the necessary documentation to state or local rental programs and are causing delays for people who are months behind in rent. Other renters do not have access to computers or cellphones to apply online.

Theo R. Welling
For St. Louis Public Radio
Taiya Wright, office administrator with Horizon Housing Development Co., assists renters over the phone with rental aid applications.

St. Louis and St. Louis County officials need to do a better job of helping people manage the complicated process, said Lee Camp, an attorney with ArchCity Defenders, a civil rights law firm.

“With COVID here, families have been asked to shoulder a lot of different challenges, and this is just another one on top of those,” Camp told St. Louis on the Air. “It wasn't exactly top of the mind to take care of all your technological needs or figure out ways to access a computer to even apply for these funds at those times.”

St. Louis on the Air: Attorney Lee Camp discusses rental assistance delays

In St. Louis, 720 households applied for rental aid, and officials assisted 361 households. Officials paid out about $1.5 million to people who needed help paying rent.

St. Louis County officials received 7,203 applications for rental aid and assisted 1,077 households. Officials paid out about $5.4 million to people in need of emergency rental assistance.

Both St. Louis and St. Louis County officials said they were behind in processing applications because they did not have enough staff and some applicants did not have the necessary documents.

Now that both St. Louis and St. Louis County rental aid efforts have more staff, they can process applications more quickly, and wait times for payment will be less.

A St. Louis spokesperson said the city is also working with social service organizations to canvas neighborhoods and contact people who are on the eviction docket to ensure they have the resources to help keep them in their homes.

Camp said the rental aid clinics are a step in the right direction to helping those people who need extra assistance with rental applications.

“These clinics have to work,” Camp said. “The future clinics coming down the road they have to work because this money does have a timeline and actually goes back to the federal government if we don't spend it.”

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.

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