KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The clock is ticking for families facing eviction.
The CDC’s federal moratorium ends on Dec. 31.
It was a measure designed to protect tenants during the pandemic, but the moratorium did not stop some people from losing their homes.
Andrea Messina is one of those tenants. Her road to eviction was a complicated one.
Messina moved into a house in south Kansas City in the spring of 2018. Later that year she lost her job, and the new one she found months later paid significantly less.
A friend offered to help her financially.
“When the pandemic came, I had some support that was helping me get the rent paid, and that support ended up losing their job,” Messina said.
At the same time, Messina said plumbing problems at the house weren’t getting fixed. An attorney for her landlord did not respond for comment to this story before the time of publication. Our article will be updated if a response is provided.
“It got to a point with the pandemic, money just got really tight, and I was like you know what, if the landlord is not going to fix the property, then I’m not going to pay him and focus on getting other bills caught up,” Messina said.
Under the federal moratorium, a covered tenant cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent. The keyword there is “covered.”
“If you’ve declared that you’ve been impacted by COVID-19 and you cannot pay your rent because of it, that’s what it protects you from in terms of eviction,” Todd Jordan, Chief Community Engagement Officer at the United Way of Greater Kansas City, explained.
To be covered the renter must also:
- Use best efforts to obtain government assistance for rent
- Attempt to make timely partial payments
- Face homelessness or be forced to move into close quarters in a congregate or shared living facility because of the eviction
Tenants had to give their landlords signed CDC declaration forms, too.
“I had never heard about needing to file this additional paperwork with your landlord,” Messina said of the requirement.
She was not the only tenant confused by the process.
“They’re not finding it, and that’s the issue,” Shanice Taylor, a KC Tenants Fellow, said of the declaration form.
Taylor and other leaders have spent Saturdays handing out the forms and educating tenants in neighborhoods around the city.
She said some landlords also gave their tenants information about the moratorium, which still allowed certain evictions to occur.
For example, landlord complaint cases could move forward.
Data the I-Team obtained from the 16th Judicial Circuit of Jackson County shows 465 writs for housing evictions were issued from the start of the moratorium in September through the end of November.
The issuing of a writ is one of the final steps in the eviction process, so that data does not include tenants who voluntarily left much earlier in the eviction process, like after the filing of a case.
According to data provided by a court spokesperson, there were 1,265 eviction cases filed during the moratorium, and 861 of those were rent & possession filings. The others were landlord complaint and unlawful detainer cases.
Calls for Help
The United Way of Greater Kansas City fielded more than 50,000 calls for help from April through November.
The majority were for housing and utility assistance.
According to Chief Community Engagement Officer Todd Jordan, the requests intensified in recent weeks.
“I had one of our partner agencies that yesterday alone processed 92 households and spent the entirety of the remainder of their CARES Act allocation,” Jordan said in an interview last Thursday.
According to Jordan, there are still CARES Act funds available for rent relief in Jackson, Johnson and Wyandotte counties.
The United Way is able to send payments directly to landlords for current and back rent.
“We do also worry about the impact on our small business owners who are landlords, where they can’t absorb the loss of revenue,” Jordan said.
The KC Regional Housing Alliance surveyed metro housing providers, who said 38 percent of their tenants were late or unable to pay rent. Nearly half planned to sell some or all of their rental properties because of the loss in income.
Unfortunately, their tenants can only utilize the CARES Act funding until Dec. 30, or the money goes back to the federal government.
“So if you have been impacted by COVID and have a need for assistance, now is the time to be calling. Because I also can’t guarantee that funding will be available in two weeks since agencies are under pressure to spend it,” Jordan said.
What comes next
Jordan is hopeful Congress will both extend the deadline to spend CARES Act dollars and pass another relief package.
“Honestly the ability to provide either a second round of stimulus or further assistance that can come from the federal and state levels to buttress the supports that we have, that would be really the biggest thing we need right now,” he said.
In the meantime, the United Way is trying to raise funds for its partner agencies to accommodate the demand that will come in January.
KC Tenants is also bracing for the impact.
“We are predicting an avalanche,” Taylor said, referring to new evictions.
More tenants will go through the process Andrea Messina just experienced.
Messina was evicted in October. She insists she did not receive a summons to appear in court, despite the fact that a private process server signed a document saying it was delivered.
She is struggling to find a new place to live and said two landlords have turned her down because of the eviction on her record.
“I’m terrified that I’m going to end up on the streets,” Messina said through tears.
It’s a fear shared by other tenants as January looms closer.
Mayor Quinton Lucas is calling on the presiding judge of the 16th Circuit in Jackson County to extend the eviction moratorium. On Tuesday a spokesperson said a moratorium extension would need to come from either the legislative or executive branch.