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Linn County still seeing high demand for emergency rent aid
But most of aid available under state program untouched
CEDAR RAPIDS — More than 1,000 Linn County households have been helped with rental assistance over the last four months as the local program has paid out about two-thirds of its share of the aid approved for it by Congress in a pandemic relief package.
In Iowa, Linn and Polk counties operate their own rental assistance programs using millions allocated by Congress. But outside of the two counties, tenants and landlords seeking pandemic rental relief must apply through a program run by the Iowa Finance Authority — and it’s a very different story there.
As of Tuesday, the state had distributed only about $25 million of the total $195 million approved by Congress a year ago, Iowa Finance Authority spokeswoman Ashley Jared told The Gazette.
That’s less than 13 percent, and does not include the tens of millions more coming the state’s way under a second round of federal pandemic funding approved earlier this year.
Concerned that many state programs are not getting the relief out fast enough to those who need it, the U.S. Treasury Department set a deadline of mid-November for states to spend 30 percent of the funding or face the possibility that unspent money may have to be returned. Iowa’s state program is seeking to transfer $30 million to Polk County’s program instead, which would put it close to the level of compliance.
State officials say there has not been enough statewide demand for the rental aid, and Jared said the state has not received notification from the Treasury of any reallocation.
None of the federal money the state is receiving is being redistributed to the Linn County program — at least not yet.
Congress last December approved a round of emergency rental aid — called ERA 1 — to help those facing eviction or loss of utilities after being laid off or losing hours in the pandemic. Iowa received about $195 million and Polk County and Des Moines about a combined $14.7 million under ERA 1.
Then in March, Congress passed a second round of pandemic relief, called ERA 2. Under this second round, Linn County received about $5.3 million to help households.
In partnership with Waypoint, Linn County launched its “stopgap” rental assistance program back in August, when a national moratorium against evictions was ending.
Linn County Community Outreach and Assistance Director Ashley Balius said the program’s first four months have run quite smoothly, and it has allocated over $3.5 million so far.
“The biggest priority at the beginning was just the need to get it up and running as soon as we could because we were working against the deadline of the eviction moratorium ending,” she said. “But overall, it’s gone really well. We’ve allocated almost $1 million a month.”
Balius said the county expected a high level of need at the start of the program, but thought that need would taper off as time passed. She said that assumption was wrong.
“It has not tapered off and it’s continued to stay in high demand,” she said. “This is based on how consistent the payouts have been since the get-go.”
But she said she’s not worried if the current round of funding runs out between now and when the county may be able to receive more, citing the strength of other assistance programs and partnerships in the county.
“I feel good about it,” she said. “We have gone through the funding quicker than I expected, but that is a great thing because the assistance is out there with the demand. We are doing our best to work with the state and other orgs to make sure there would still be coverage and assistance, even if there is a little gap in time.”
Balius also oversees the county’s general assistance department, and said that department could help if a gap were to occur.
Although the state program is requesting to transfer money to bolster the Polk County program, rules do not allow it to do the same yet for Linn County’s program.
“This reallocation is for ERA 1 funds only,” Jared said. “IFA and Polk County are the only jurisdictions in the state that received these funds. Linn County received ERA 2 funds, which are not part of this discussion.”
ERA 2 funding has fewer restrictions than ERA 1. With ERA 1, applicants have to prove that they suffered financial hardship directly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the funding expires next year. With ERA 2, the terms are more lenient and funding does not expire until 2025.
Jared said the Treasury Department will publish guidance in the future on the reallocation process for ERA 2 funds, which will not begin until after March 31, 2022. So far, the state program has received another $59 million under ERA 2.
HOW TO APPLY
Linn County tenants and landlords in need of assistance can apply at: linncountyiowa.gov/1585/Emergency-Rental-Assistance.
For those who don’t live in Linn County, but need assistance, applications through the state can be found at: iowafinance.com/about/covid-19-ifa-recovery-assistance
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