Sep. 18—The executive director of the Manhattan Housing Authority said he is working to connect landlords and tenants with state resources to help them pay off more than $9 million in regional overdue rent — and avoid eviction.
MHA executive director and city commissioner Aaron Estabrook said his agency is pairing with the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation (KHRC) to distribute payments to landlords and tenants who apply for Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance (KERA) funds. Estabrook said in the Manhattan metropolitan statistical area that covers Geary, Pottawatomie and Riley counties, renters owe an estimated $9 million in back rent. Estabrook said he had to do the math to determine that $9 million estimate.
"It's really impossible to go in and see exactly what the rent arrears are at a given moment," Estabrook said. "It's really hard to track over historical trends even."
That estimate of $9 million comes from data pulled by the U.S. Census Bureau's Household Pulse survey. Estabrook said the survey asks people one question about whether they owe any back rent. The data was then sorted into individual counties by researchers at statistical firm Surgo Ventures in July. Estabrook said he took that divvied-up data and applied it to the Manhattan statistical area. He said the state distributed $1.7 million in KERA funds to the Manhattan area in the past few months to tackle a portion of the back-owed rent.
Riley County so far has 235 KERA applications for rental assistance, totaling $956,249 of the $1.7 million. Geary County has 200 applications submitted that totaled $662,905, while Pottawatomie County has only 15 applications totaling $86,691.
As of Friday, according to the KHRC website, there are 5,672 applications for assistance being processed and 7,353 households statewide served by the program. In total residents have submitted more than 16,000 applications, equaling more than $39 million in potential funding assistance.
The state is set to receive about $300 million in federal rental assistance funds through 2025; currently Kansas has about $180 million to distribute to property owners and renters to help alleviate back-owed rent. Since the program launched earlier this year, state officials have processed 450 applications for rent and utility assistance in the Manhattan statistical area. To be eligible for KERA funds, Estabrook said both tenants and landlords must apply under a "COVID hardship."
"That's a pretty broad term," Estabrook said.
Alliance Realty agent and rental property owner Scott Seel owns an apartment building in Leonardville. He said he recently had a couple of tenants that "for a variety of reasons" suffered financial hardship, but he said "it proved a challenge to get the tenants to participate" in the KERA program.
"We filled out our (KERA) form, and I had our management company repeatedly ask them to apply so we could keep them in the apartments," Seel said. "Both tenants ended up moving out voluntarily. We were never paid, and still to this date have not been paid that money."
Seel said about $3,000 — or roughly a year's worth of rent — was owed between the two tenants, and now he will have to seek a solution in court. He said other than this instance, he has not had many issues with back-owed rent.
"Most problems are solvable if we just sit down and talk about it," Seel said.
Seel said he brought the KERA funding program to the attention of his property manager, who was already aware of it. He said the program "helps keep people in their homes" and is beneficial to both tenant and landlord, "but there are hoops you have to jump through."
To make those hoops easier to navigate, Estabrook said he is going to request $3.1 million from the KERA program to help with what he calls the "Bridge to Housing Stability." Part of that money would be used to hire three new case managers to educate and assist tenants and landlords with KERA applications. About $2.9 million of that requested amount would go toward paying off the $9 million estimated in overdue rent. Estabrook said he will present that request to the MHA board in the coming days.
Estabrook said the goal is always to not evict people, but to direct them to helpful resources. Seel said he understands that being behind on rent is an embarrassing situation for a tenant, and penalties like late fees don't help the matter.
"You've just got to be a human being and understand that people have situations," Seel said. "Being more flexible with a solution helps everyone."