Spokane sticks with LiveStories to distribute rental assistance – for now

<p><p>The city of Spokane will stay the course with its rental assistance program, but elected leaders signaled they want to explore alternatives in the future. </p></p><p><p>The Spokane City Council agreed Monday to hand Seattle-based company LiveStories a $10.3 million contract to distribute additional rental assistance to those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.</p></p><p><p>The latest tranche of funds adds to the millions already distributed by LiveStories, which has worked to distribute pandemic assistance for the city since last year.</p></p><p><p>But with the latest round of funding, Councilman Michael Cathcart had pushed the city to consider an alternative organization. He cited the frustrations he’s heard from landlords about the time it takes to process a rental assistance application.</p></p><p><p>Ultimately, the City Council sided with the administration, which warned that issuing a new request for proposals would take weeks and would not necessarily improve the distribution of rental assistance.</p></p><p><p>LiveStories is expected to spend down its existing pool of funds in December, and pursuing a new organization to handle rental assistance payments would likely cause a gap in service.</p></p><p><p>City officials also pointed to federal data showing that Spokane is among the quickest in Washington in sending out rental assistance checks. When the issue was raised last month, the city cited Treasury Department data showing its average turnaround time for rental assistance has been 45 days from the time an application is submitted, nearly a full month better than the statewide average of 72 days.</p></p><p><p>LiveStories has defended its practices and attributed most of the lag time to standards put in place to reduce the likelihood of fraudulent applications being accepted.</p></p><p><p>Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson said that distributing rental assistance has been a challenge for everyone tasked with it.</p></p><p><p>“They have done the most outreach into the communities of color to deploy these funds, so I will be supporting them,” Wilkerson said of LiveStories.</p></p><p><p>Still, with the next round of about $5 million, Cathcart and the council are pushing the city to issue a new request for proposals to test the waters.</p></p>