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Are you struggling to pay rent or utility bills? Cedar Rapids, Iowa City programs may help make ends meet

Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz introduces new mayor Brad Hart during the swearing-in ceremony for new council m
Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz introduces new mayor Brad Hart during the swearing-in ceremony for new council members at City Hall in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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Both Cedar Rapids and Iowa City will work with social service agencies to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funds to residents facing eviction.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, each city received extra money under the Community Development Block Grant, a longtime federal program for community development focusing on affordable housing and poverty relief efforts.

Both communities said they will work with social service agencies to identify those most in need of the aid.

Cedar Rapids program

The city is allocating $623,757 in additional CDBG funds it got to provide assistance to low- and moderate-income households.

“The mayor and City Council recognized early on that housing assistance would be a critical need for many Cedar Rapids residents during this time,” City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said in a statement. “This program will provide direct support to citizens who have been greatly impacted with a loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The aid will help with rent and utility bills.

The announcement came hours before Gov. Kim Reynolds announced a statewide program to help renters or homeowners at risk of eviction or foreclosure because of a documented COVID-19-related loss of income after March 17.

That program, run through Iowa Finance Authority, provides rental assistance for up to four months for a maximum of $3,200, or mortgage payment assistance for up to two months or a maximum of $3,000.

But anyone receiving a $600-a-week additional unemployment benefit under the federal CARES Act is not eligible for the state program.

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Cedar Rapids Community Development Director Jennifer Pratt said the city will monitor the state aid so resources aren’t duplicated.

“We do know, for instance, the state program will not assist people who have been receiving unemployment,” she said. “Our program allows that. It’s always in everyone’s best interest to layer resources, so they’re most effective.”

In April, the city conducted a survey of registered landlords to get feedback on what issues the landlords were facing due to COVID-19. The results showed that roughly 8 percent of the reported units were behind on rent. That, according to 43 percent of the landlords who responded, is an increase in late rent over this time last year. Nearly half reported that they plan to offer a payment plan to tenants instead of proceeding to eviction.

Pratt said she expects between 800 and 1,200 residents may need rent or utility assistance.

The program is available until funds run out, she said. The city said it will coordinate referrals for the program through local Iowa Legal Aid, Horizons and other social service agencies.

Iowa City program

Tracy Hightshoe, the Neighborhood & Development Services director for Iowa City, said the city received $410,422 in additional CDBG funding. Sixty percent of that will go toward preventing evictions in the city and be administered by Community Crisis Services and Food Bank, Hightshoe said.

The city is working on finalizing the parameters for the program and, like Cedar Rapids, ensuring it does not duplicate the efforts of the Iowa Finance Authority’s program.

The Johnson County Courthouse is unlikely reopen and begin processing evictions until July 13, giving the city more time to finalize the program, Hightshoe said.

“We’re going to tweak our program a little bit,” she said.

Hightshoe said under the city’s program, funds will go toward the landlord to meet emergency rent or utility needs.

Hightshoe said the City Council has also approved $50,000 in local funds to fund a bridge program to meet the gap between now and when the federal funds are administered.

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The other 40 percent of the additional CDBG funds received by the city will go to nonprofit organizations impacted by COVID-19, Hightshoe said. The city has not yet determined which organization will administer those funds.

Iowa residents facing eviction should contact Iowa Legal Aid’s COVID-19 Legal Advice Hotline at 1-800-332-0419.

Pratt said anyone who has been given notice of eviction should call Iowa Legal Aid immediately.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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