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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis County Officials Need More People To Apply For Rental Aid This Month

One of the topics of the 2018 Fair Housing Conference was on finding was to reduce the number of evictions in St. Louis.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
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St. Louis County officials need more people who are behind in rent to apply for assistance so the federal funds will not be returned.

St. Louis County officials are urging people who cannot pay their rent to apply for rental assistance, now that the county has more staff to quickly process applications.

So far, the county has distributed about $9.6 million of $26.6 million in federal rental aid funds. Under federal rules, the county must distribute about $8 million more or it will have to return any unused funds.

After hiring additional workers, the county should be able to distribute the required 65% of allotted funds, said Yusef Scoggin, St. Louis County director of family and community services.

“I want to make sure that nobody loses their residence or is denied,” Scoggin said.

The county disburses about $1.5 million in rental aid funds per week, which officials say is a significant increase from previous months.

Recently, housing advocates and tenants in the St. Louis region complained officials are not distributing the money quickly enough. Many advocates feared that landlords would evict renters who could not pay their rent before the county processed the tenants’ applications for aid.

Scoggin said some applications are delayed because tenants do not have computers and cannot fill out applications online. That pushed county officials to hire more staff and expand partnerships with organizations to help people fill out applications online or in person.

At the beginning of summer, the county hired a team of people to help tenants with questions and application assistance. Applications also were made available at county libraries.

Scoggin said landlords who decided not to participate in the program had become another hurdle for officials. Many landlords did not provide the necessary information for tenants to receive rental assistance. The federal government requires the county to collect information from landlords before sending them rental payments.

Previously the county had to send payments directly to landlords and some were not cooperative and now the county has the ability to send money directly to tenants, County Executive Sam Page said.

“We really think we’re on track now to get more applications in working around the clock, recognizing the change in federal guidelines, which allows us to change the questions that we ask folks when they apply and allows us to process their applications much more promptly,” Page said.

The county has provided rental aid for 1,353 households. The average payment is about $6,000.

Page said that since county officials are on target with spending the allotted rental aid, the county should receive another nearly $27 million in federal rental aid funds next month, which can be distributed over the next few years.

Housing advocates say renters must receive aid soon because the U.S. Supreme Court recently ended the federal ban on evictions. St. Louis and St. Louis County judges did the same thing.

But on Tuesday, St. Louis County Council voted to reinstate the county’s eviction moratorium. The local ban will go into effect on Sept. 23.

“We'd like to take advantage of this federal program for the people who need it and will benefit from it,” Page said. “We don't think that evictions when they can be avoided are a good idea, especially during a pandemic, and these funds are here for our community. We want to put me to good use.”

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

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