Kansas housing advocates warn of looming eviction crisis beyond CDC reprieve

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TOPEKA — A new eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should cover most Kansas renters, but stakeholders and advocates agree it is only a temporary solution demanding further action.

The moratorium, issued Tuesday, replaces a prior federal ban on evictions that expired Saturday. The new ban will last until Oct.3 and is narrower in scope, targeting counties with substantial or high COVID-19 transmission levels.

Only 11 Kansas counties currently have low or moderate transmission levels — Decatur, Edwards, Elk, Ellsworth, Graham, Greeley, Grove, Hamilton, Osborne, Jewell and Sheridan — and would be ineligible under the new moratorium.

Even with most counties covered, the moratorium leaves room for many evictions to take place, said Vince Munoz, an organizer with Rent Zero Kansas. Like past eviction bans, residents must prove they have exercised their best efforts to obtain rental aid from the government.

The new moratorium also only covers tenants who made $99,000 or less in 2020 and no more than $99,000 in 2021.

“(The moratorium) is better than nothing, but it means a lot less than I think people realize because it happened so late and because it’s so limited,” Munoz said. “A landlord could try to argue that the financial hardship or the refusal to pay or whatever was not related to COVID-19. They might win, and some judges are kind of getting sympathetic to that argument.”

The CDC ban comes as cases of the COVID-19 delta variant continue to rise across the country. It is the only moratorium covering Kansas renters now after legislators allowed a statewide moratorium to expire in May.

Estimates from the Kansas Housing Resources indicate more than 27,000 Kansas renters are currently behind on their rent and estimates from Zillow show about 14,600 renters are at risk of eviction.

For those who can prove COVID-19 distress, the moratorium should provide relief. This targeted approach is focused on providing those affected most with relief.

“In the context of a pandemic, eviction moratoria — like quarantine, isolation and social distancing — can be an effective public health measure utilized to prevent the spread of communicable disease,” a statement from the CDC reads. “Eviction moratoria facilitate self-isolation and self-quarantine by people who become ill or who are at risk of transmitting COVID-19 by keeping people out of congregate settings and in their own homes.”

However, the new moratorium is likely to face legal challenges. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court indicated congressional action would be needed to continue the eviction ban beyond July 31.

Munoz lamented the fact it took several days to issue a new moratorium. He said in the few days without a moratorium in place, many evictions likely occurred.

“The three days was the difference between someone losing their home and not,” Munoz said. “These arbitrary decisions to allow things to expire or not expire really hurt people, and lawmakers need to understand this is not a game for people.”

Rather than evict tenants, the White House is encouraging landlords to wait 30 days and seek federal rental assistance to be compensated. One option available to aid both renters and landlords is the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance program.

Many applicants to the program administered by the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation have expressed frustration with the slow processing pace. However, KHRC executive director Ryan Vincent said they are now able to process eligible applicants between seven and 10 days.

As of Thursday, data from the KHRC shows 4,586 of 9,555 applicants have been handled, with more than 3,000 under review. Nearly $25 million in aid has been distributed, Vincent said.

Vincent advised Kansans to act promptly and communicate with their landlords to apply for the program. He said the best way to stop the wave of evictions likely to occur when the moratorium ultimately expires is to ensure all sides are on financially firm ground and then look for long-term solutions.

“We have a housing problem in our state, and it’s systemic,” Vincent said. “It leads to rising rent and leads to rising home prices. While incomes aren’t keeping up with all these rising costs, it creates market issues. Our employers, communities and policymakers need to come together and talk about how we’re going to address this long-term problem.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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