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Some low-income tenants in Missouri may eventually get a one-time payment for their unpaid rent — to keep them from being evicted and to keep their landlords getting paid during the COVID-19 pandemic — after the Missouri Housing Development Commission unanimously approved such a program Friday.

There's an eviction moratorium by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in place from Sept. 4 through Dec. 31 this year that temporarily halts evictions of eligible people for nonpayment of rent during that time.

Steve Whitson, MHDC's community initiatives manager, said tenants will still ultimately be responsible for unpaid rent, and their landlords are not being funded during the moratorium.

Once the moratorium expires, Whitson said MHDC would like to have up and running in January a program to avoid thousands of evictions, using $15 million out of the $28 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding the commissions received.

Whitson said the money's been coming in since March, but the guidance on issues such who was eligible for it, and timelines for spending didn't arrive until September.

He said at least 20 percent of the money must be used by September 2021 or else the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development can recapture it. There are similar spending deadlines moving forward after that, through when all the money needs to be spent in September 2022.

The "temporary rental arrears program" would be administered by MHDC, and Whitson said the benefits of that approach are that while the commission can't do a lot of one-on-one client services, it does have wide reach and lower administrative costs than nonprofit agencies, so the program can be created and implemented quickly.

Nonprofits who work with the commission and provide services such as shelter and case management would still collectively get the other $13.3 million of CARES Act money, and Whitson added the usual emergency solutions grant funding will also be available.

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He said MHDC would use the $15 million for its temporary program to make one-time payments for up to six months of rent in arrears on behalf of tenants to landlords — though tenants would very much be involved in the process and aware of what would be going on.

The eligibility period for those six months of rent in arrears will begin with April 2020. Landlords would apply on behalf of their tenants and would agree to not evict tenants for non-payment for four months.

Whitson said the exact details of the application are still being worked out but would include photo identification of everyone older than 18 years old listed on a lease, verification of household income being contributed by anyone older than 18, and verification that there is a signed lease and of what its amount is.

He also said rent maximums will be established to ensure tenants most in need — those making below 50 percent of an area's median income — are targeted to receive help.

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