At the end of the month, the federal eviction moratorium is ending for renters who fell behind on payments or struggled keeping up during the pandemic.
In Iowa, that means thousands of people are suddenly at risk, according to data from the Census Bureau. The likelihood of eviction or foreclosure hangs over more than ten thousand Iowans.
Rental assistance programs, both state-wide and location or municipality-based are available, but people at risk of eviction or utility disconnection are now working against time.
Anne Bacon, the executive director for IMPACT Community Action Partnership, said the documentation people need to apply with is extensive and not usually on-hand.
“Once it’s all approved, the compliance is pretty fast, but getting past all the compliance is what takes time,” she said. “That and the fact that you have so many applicants.”
IMPACT manages the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which serves only residents of Polk County, including Des Moines. Bacon said they’ve served 1,800 people already and they still have 2,000 applications right now.
Without the moratorium, she said, Iowa would be facing a crisis of homelessness or people living in unsafe, overcrowded conditions. Or they’d have to resort to payday loans or selling property.
“A lot of families have, even if they’ve gone back to work, had to dig such a big hole to stay in their homes,” she said.
The best solution she could think of, other than extending the moratorium, would be to get people approved for assistance faster. But people often don’t qualify until they’re already late on their rent payments.
If families face eviction, rental assistance programs direct them to contact Iowa Legal Aid for free counseling and mediation with landlords.
Both IMPACT and the Iowa Finance Authority have direct partnerships with Iowa Legal Aid and direct families there for help. And both expect to be funded through September or until funds run out.
The Iowa Rent and Utility Assistance Program run by the Iowa Finance Authority prioritizes cases with eviction or utility disconnection notices and those with income trouble, according to Ashely Jared, the communications director for the Iowa Finance Authority.
She said the program and the legal aid has been lifesaving for Iowans, many of whom were in crisis before the pandemic.
“I can’t even tell you the impact. It’s very emotional. I’m not in the weeds of the application process myself, but I do occasionally get emails forwarded to me with just the most heartfelt thank yous,” Jared said. “This is their livelihood, their homes and we are really saving them and helping them to get back on their feet.”
Jared also said she’d like to see an extension of the moratorium so states have the chance to process all of the people who need help and start assistance.
Though the moratorium is ending, plans to increase affordable housing are still on the table on the national level.
Iowa Rep. Cindy Axne gave a statement about her commitment to seeing it happen:
“As we move beyond the COVID-19 crisis, access to affordable housing will continue to be critical for families that are struggling,” Axne said. “As the newly-appointed Vice Chair of the Financial Services Committee’s Housing Subcommittee, affordable housing will be a cornerstone of my agenda this Congress. In fact, the House has already passed legislation of mine that will help preserve affordable housing in Iowa’s rural areas. I am committed to working with my colleagues – both through our infrastructure negotiations and the regular budget process – to support access and affordability to housing across Iowa.”
President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan also includes provisions to solve the problem of affordable housing.
“The main takeaway that I hope people get is, you know, just like any disaster, once the events over and recovery begins, that’s when the real hard work starts,” Bacon said.
by Nikoel Hytrek