Johnson County renters owe nearly $32M in unpaid rent, according to new report

In Johnson County, 12% of rental households are estimated to be behind on rent, according to a new county-by-county analysis from nonprofit Surgo Ventures. Overall, Johnson County renters owe nearly $32 million in back rent. Filed image.

Unpaid rent is increasing in Johnson County, according to a new data analysis that shows more than 8,300 rental households in the county, or roughly 12% of the total, are behind on monthly rental payments as of early August.

The newly released data from Surgo Ventures, a nonprofit organization that uses data to analyze health and social issues, gives a county-by-county analysis of back rent across the U.S.

The estimated number of rental households in arrears in Johnson County has gone up steadily since July, according to the data, mirroring trends across Kansas and the U.S.

According to Surgo Ventures’ estimate from early August, households behind on rent in Johnson County collectively owe roughly $31.8 million overall.

That breaks down to an average of $3,828 owed per household.

The most recent totals are not as high as figures seen late last year.

According to Surgo’s analysis, unpaid rent in Johnson County peaked last December when more than 11,800 households owed a total of about $44 million in unpaid rent.

But after gradually dropping over the course of the early part of 2021, the numbers have been going up again this summer.

Statewide back rent

In total, Kansas and Johnson County have nearly the same percentage of renters who are behind on payment, with Kansas sitting at a rate of 13%, according to Surgo.

Last February, Gov. Laura Kelly and the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, or KHRC, announced $200 million in funds for in statewide rental assistance.

The initiative was funded through a federal COVID-19 relief measure passed by Congress and signed into law by then-President Trump last December.

“The $200 million funding for rental assistance will go a long way to prevent evictions and homelessness, and ensure Kansans can stay sheltered and secure while we continue to fight this virus,” Kelly said in February, at the time of the announcement.

As of late September, the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance program, which is run by KHRC, said it had assisted about 7,800 Kansas households that have struggled financially due to the pandemic, granting more than $41.5 million in rental, utilities and internet assistance to eligible Kansas households.

Why is unpaid rent rising?

There is a limited ability to process incoming applications, and the burden on applicants is high, said Sema Sgaier, Co-Founder and CEO of Surgo Ventures and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“Unlike so many intractable economic problems, our rental arrears crisis is one that has a solution: there are funds available to renting families to help them pay their rent. But those funds aren’t being handed out quickly enough, and our analysis shows that,” said Sgaier, in a news release accompanying the data.

The more than $46 billion emergency rental assistance funds Congress has approved is mostly sitting unused in state and local assistance programs across the U.S., Sgaier says.

“It’s critical that state and local policymakers make it easier for renting households to access these funds, whether that means easing stringent requirements or ramping up outreach to ensure broad public awareness,” Sgaier said.

In late August, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to strike down the Biden Administration’s national eviction moratorium extension, originally put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September 2020.

About 6.3 million rental households in America could now face eviction in the near future, according to Surgo Ventures findings.