(Missouri Independent) – Missouri is around four months away from distributing all of the nearly $600 million in emergency housing relief assistance it received as part of federal COVID relief packages, the Missouri Housing Development Commission was informed on Friday.
The program, called State Assistance for Housing Relief Program, or SAFHR, includes funds to provide rent and utility assistance to eligible Missourians affected by COVID-19, assistance to landlords, as well as mortgage assistance for homeowners.
Missouri’s program is accepting applications into 2023. The program for renters will cover up to 18 months of total assistance.
The federal government allocated the funds in December 2020 and March 2021, and many states have already exhausted the funding and closed their applications.
Missouri’s state housing finance agency needed to build a program from scratch to distribute nearly $600 million in rental assistance, causing delays early on which threatened the federal funds. Before the pandemic, MHDC administered only around $10 million a year and gave funding to organizations rather than needing to review applications and disperse funds to landlords.
Last year, the state was in danger of losing the funds because it had struggled to process applications quickly but sped up the amount disbursed beginning this year.
Several states, including Oregon, New York, and Texas, had already used up almost their entire funding share by January of this year.
The Missouri Housing Development Commission has delivered $445 million of the roughly $593 million total, MHDC Director Kip Stetzler said Friday.
Stetzler estimated that with an average of $9.5 million distributed per week, there are “almost four months remaining” until funds are completely distributed.
According to the state’s dashboard, most of the assistance has gone toward rental arrears and forward rent assistance, and a fraction has gone to utility assistance. Roughly 120,000 applications to the program have been awarded so far.
According to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, eviction filings in Missouri declined early in the pandemic but steadily increased over 2020, and are now just under the historic averages. Missouri did not implement a state-wide eviction moratorium, though some counties adopted protections for renters. There have been over 70,000 eviction filings since March 15, 2020, according to Eviction Lab data.
Stetzler said MHDC staff are working to construct a long-term eviction prevention and housing stability plan for when the one-time assistance runs out and will continue to work with a network of nonprofits to administer the regularly-funded assistance programs.
“While the federal one-time rental assistance program is nearing its end, direct assistance is still available through the existing nonprofit network,” Stetzler said.
State treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick, who is a member of the commission, congratulated staff for nearing completion of distributing funds, which he said had earlier seemed insurmountable.
“It’s a lot of money to try to get out,” Fitzpatrick said.
(Photo courtesy of Missouri News Service)