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Some St. Louisans Are Losing Hope As They Wait For The City To Process Rental Aid

St. Louis Housing Defense Collective advocates occupied St. Louis city hall on Tuesday to demand city officials to rapidly release rental aid assistance to people who are facing eviction in St. Louis.
Action St. Louis
St. Louis Housing Defense Collective advocates at St. Louis City Hall on Tuesday demand city officials rapidly release rental aid assistance to people who are facing eviction.

St. Louisans who are in danger of losing their homes to eviction expressed relief that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has extended a moratorium on evictions. But some say the 60-day extension may not keep them in their homes until they receive rental assistance.

Housing advocates say the eviction ban is a temporary reprieve for people who face eviction, but they called for city officials to release rental aid more quickly to help keep people off the streets during a public health crisis.

“It’s really in the final quarter to try to get this money out to everybody who needs it,” said Kennard Williams, lead organizer for Action St. Louis. “What we're seeing right now is a failure from local to state governments up to the federal level."

Williams helps renters through the local and state rental aid application process. Some people who applied for aid two months ago through the City of St. Louis still have not received a response, he said.

Recently, Williams helped about 20 St. Louisans seek financial aid from the State Assistance for Housing Relief program, which helps those who have trouble paying their rent during the coronavirus pandemic. The renters previously applied for aid through the city. He switched their applications to the state’s program because they had not received a response to their city applications for rental assistance.

The process is frustrating for many renters because city officials have not told them when they will receive money to pay their rent, Williams said.

"It's unfortunately damaged the credibility of the program,” he said. “So, a lot of people don't have faith that it's even a working or a real program, for that matter, that will be able to get this much-needed rental assistance to them so they can get away from being evicted."

Samuels Owens is one renter who has given up hope for rental assistance through the city.

Owens lost his job at Nature’s Bakery last fall and picked up work at the beginning of this year for a landscaping company but with reduced hours. He ended up starting his own landscaping company.

But Owens is two months behind in his monthly rent of $435 for his Dutchtown area apartment. He applied through the city last month for help to pay his past due rent of about $900, but city officials have yet to respond to his application.

Owens said he has little faith in city officials and how they are distributing federal and local aid.

“City officials don’t really care,” he said. “If they did, they would come around knocking on doors and ask us, ‘What do we need?’”

Owens said he hasn’t contacted the city to check on the status of his application. He plans to work extra hours or find another job to help pay his arrears.

A spokesperson for St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said the city is behind in processing rental aid applications because it did not have enough organizations to rapidly process applications.

City officials encourage people who have trouble connecting with organizations about their application to contact the St. Louis Department of Human Services or to reach out to Jones’ office to make a complaint.

On Tuesday, Jones announced that residents who have not applied for assistance can do so at walk-in rental aid clinics to help speed up the process.

Williams said if people are constantly being told that rental assistance is available, then city officials must do everything in their power to help people access that money.

“This is the Show-Me state,” Williams said. “If you're actually doing these things, show us we want to see this money getting out the door to people, because their lives depend on it.”

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.