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Wichita’s housing stability program offers rental assistance for people at risk of homelessness

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Celia Hack
/
KMUW
New housing stability program offers rental assistance to Wichitans.

The program is different from the pandemic-era Wichita Emergency Rental Assistance, which closed in September.

The city of Wichita has a new program to help people who are facing homelessness or housing instability.

The housing stability program has around $2 million in federal funding to assist people with rent and security deposits, which it’s been distributing since November.

The program opened about one month after Wichita’s pandemic-era emergency rental assistance program ended, which had provided housing stability, according to Matt Lowe, the United Way of the Plains’ Community Impact Manager.

“That was being utilized by many for rent and utility assistance,” Lowe wrote in a November email to KMUW. “As a result, many have gotten evicted when they couldn’t pay rent.”

The new program may act as a stopgap after the pandemic-era one was phased out. It offers financial assistance for no more than three months, while the emergency rental program paid for up to 18 months of rent.

Unlike the emergency rental assistance program, it also requires participants to work with a case manager, said Na’shell Williams, the coordinator for the city’s housing stability program.

“During the COVID season … we learned it was easy for us just to allocate and pay for people to have somewhere to stay,” Williams said. “… but what we’ve noticed is that we did not provide any kind of stabilization to help them to be able to maintain their homes to prevent homelessness.”

Case managers can work with program participants on job searches, training, transportation and identification needs, and more. Williams said participants should have a tangible form of income.

“It’s not providing you housing stability if we just pay your rent for you,” Williams said. “... You have to be able to identify with the specialist on how you’re going to be able to maintain the rent once we make the payment because we don’t pay month after month after month.”

Renters eligible for the program must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability. That can include an eviction notice, recent eviction, or unsafe or unhealthy living conditions.

Renters must also have experienced a negative financial impact during the pandemic and have a household income of $67,850 or less for a family of four. People who have received 18 months of assistance from the city’s former emergency rental assistance program are not eligible.

The funds used for the program must be spent by 2025. Williams said that since the program began in November, the city has distributed about $24,000 to around 240 applicants.

Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership Center’s The Journal. She is originally from Westwood, Kansas, but Wichita is her home now.