Iowa Working Through Rent Assistance Backlog as Eviction Moratorium Extended

In light of a potential housing crisis, the Centers for Disease Control announced a limited, extended moratorium on evictions nationwide.

The new notice, released Tuesday, covers counties with “substantial” or “high” levels of COVID-19 spread, and it will last until Oct. 3.

Hours before CDC’s announcement, Gov. Kim Reynolds told reporters in Sioux City the state was making progress with disbursements via the Iowa Rent and Utility Assistance Program. It launched in March to help Iowans outside of Polk County and Des Moines with rent and utility payments.

“Debi Durham and her team are working diligently to do the match and making sure we are providing the assistance they need,” Reynolds said. Durham is executive director of the Iowa Finance Authority, which oversees the state’s rent program.

Reyolds said Durham contacted Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Christensen to let her know the program was catching up with its backlog and “to not be rash” in following through with the evictions.

“She hoped by end of last week—certainly by the end of this week—a lot of of the backlog would be filled,” Reynolds said.

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The previous eviction moratorium ended Saturday, July 31. Before, President Joe Biden urged Congress to pass another extension because people across the country still can’t pay rent and state assistance programs haven’t distributed money as well as expected.

Ashley Jared, communications director for the Iowa Finance Authority, said Friday the state has hired more people and been able to address cases more quickly. She said the program has so far used $9 million of the allocated $195 million.

That’s an improvement from the end of June when the state had used only about $6.4 million for assistance.

Like many other states, the rollout of Iowa’s assistance program was bogged down by staffing shortages, technology problems, and confusion about the rules, Jared said.

Before the CDC’s announcement, at an event in Urbandale for Rep. Cindy Axne, Polk County Sheriff Kevin Schneider said processing evictions would be hard.

“We have that awful job of moving folks out, we’re trying to do that as painlessly as possible,” he said. “Polk County has a lot of financial options for those folks so we try to work with them before we have to put their things on the curb.”

Those options are run through IMPACT Community Action Project (CAP) Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which received $15 million for Polk County and Des Moines, and has used $9 million as of Friday.

At her Urbandale event, Axne said if Polk County and Des Moines were able to do that, it showed how the state’s response could have been better.

“It has nothing to do with the process. It absolutely has to do with the will of wanting to make this happen,” she said. “If Polk County and the city of Des Moines, our largest populated center in the state, that has the most need for affordable housing, can actually get their money out the door, then guess what, the state of Iowa can get that money out the door if our governor wants to get that money out the door.”

The US Supreme Court ruled in June that a further extension would have to be done through Congress, and couldn’t be accomplished with executive action.

However, Congress couldn’t pull together enough support before the deadline.

Biden said the CDC explored what authority it has to make this decision, and while it’s likely to be litigated, that litigation will buy time for states to more widely distribute assistance money to those who need it.

“We were under the impression that the states were moving this money out relatively rapidly,” he said.

In Congress, Axne co-sponsored the bill that would extend the moratorium.

“I applaud the CDC for crafting this new eviction moratorium, but recognize that this is only a temporary solution to a problem facing too many Iowa families,” Axne said in a statement. “While this new moratorium is in place, we need the State of Iowa to fully utilize the rental assistance I worked in Congress to secure for Iowa and cut the red tape that is preventing assistance from helping Iowans. Only then will we ensure this order does not simply postpone an eviction crisis until later this year because our families cannot get the aid they need.”


by Nikoel Hytrek

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