Jul. 5—Low-income tenants in Missouri who have been struggling financially due to the pandemic may be eligible for federal assistance with past-due rent and utilities.
The State Assistance for Housing Relief Program provides help for eligible Missouri residents affected by the pandemic. Renters are eligible if they are low-income, experiencing financial hardship and at risk of homelessness or housing insecurity.
The Missouri Housing Development Commission administers the program to help tenants with utilities, past-due rent and/or future rent. Utilities include electric, gas, water, sewage/waste water, fuel and trash.
With evictions on the rise, the commission has partnered with 13 nonprofit social service, regional housing stability and legal aid agencies throughout the state to disburse $593 million for tenants struggling to stay in their homes.
"Keeping Missourians in their homes is our highest priority," Kip Stetzler, the commission's executive director, said in a statement. "The Missouri State Assistance for Housing Relief program provides money for rent and utilities for up to 12 months going back to April 2020 and for up to three months in the future. The money is paid directly to either the rental property owner or the utility company."
The money comes from federal coronavirus aid programs, and funding is scheduled to last through 2025, although the commission said funding might run out within three years based on the pace of applications.
Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, a partner organization, has a local office at 403 E. Fourth St. in Joplin. Established in 2009, Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri serves 39 of the southernmost counties in the state, from Jasper to Cape Girardeau. The charity organization has served more than 33,000 individuals and families.
John Farmer de la Torre, director of communications for Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, said the organization tries to bring people back to self-sufficiency by providing compassionate social services. Farmer added they're urging Missourians to call 417-624-3790 if they need guidance or have questions about the application process.
"There's an online portal set up with MDHC, which is where people would go to complete their applications and upload documents, but the commission recognizes that not everyone has internet access or may find the process challenging," Farmer said. "This is why they're contracting with agencies like ours. We're meeting people personally to help shepherd them through the process."
To be eligible, applicants must be a Missouri resident, a renter at their current or previous address, affected by the pandemic and have an income that doesn't exceed 80% of their area median income.
"The area median income is set county by county," Farmer said. "In Jasper County for a single person, it would be an income of $33,750 and an average family of three is an income of $43,350."
Callie Lankford, case management supervisor at Catholic Charities, said the Joplin office, which covers an eight-county service area, received at least 45 applications for the program by Friday afternoon and that the phones have been ringing off the hook.
"If they want assistance through us, they can call and do a pre-screening form over the phone, which will help us identify if they're eligible for this specific funding," Lankford said. "We'll ask them questions about what amounts that they owe, utilitywise and rent, and how they were affected financially by COVID. If they're able to come to us, we'll schedule an appointment as soon as possible. We are going to do outreach appointments in the community if they can't make it here."
Lankford said they've also been receiving numerous referrals from other agencies and new clients who have never received any type of assistance before.
"We hope this gives people some relief, alleviates their anxiety and allows them to remain housed," she said. "We want people to take advantage of this program while it's available and help as many as we can."
Due to federal requirements, certain eligibility documents must be uploaded or provided. The typical application process takes three to four weeks. People needing help can apply online at www.mohousingresources.com or by phone at 833-541-1599.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.