116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Nearly 41,000 Iowans fear they face eviction or foreclosure once a federal moratorium imposed during the pandemic is lifted, according to federal census survey data.
The situation has community leaders on edge over a possible explosion of evictions and looking for solutions.
“We’ve been talking to Iowa Legal Aid and Shelter House — there’s a concern,” said Tracy Hightshoe, Neighborhood and Development Services Director for the city of Iowa City.
Hightshoe said the concern was so high that Iowa Legal Aid and area social service providers plan to start on July 12 a help desk for tenants and landlords involved in the eviction process at the Johnson County Courthouse. The idea is to work with the parties to see what could be done to prevent evictions, Hightshoe said.
“If you work with us, if you work with the tenant, we’ll try to get back rent paid if you don’t evict,” Hightshoe said.
More than 84,000 Iowa adults say they live in a household that is not current on rent or mortgage payments, according to federal census survey results. Of those households, nearly half — almost 41,000 — say it is somewhat or very likely they will be evicted in the next two months. That is the sixth-highest rate in the country, according to the survey data.
The data is taken from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, which is produced every two weeks and designed to show real-time snapshots of how American households are being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Iowa has a high share of households behind on rent or mortgage payments and worried about eviction, the state also has the lowest rate in the country — 11.5 percent — of adults who are behind on rent or mortgage payments or are worried about making their next payment.
In other words, Iowa has the lowest share in the country of adults who are behind or worried about their mortgage or rent payments. But among those who are behind, Iowa has one of the worst rates for those who fear eviction or foreclosure.
A federal moratorium on evictions for renters behind on payments was scheduled to expire this month. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week extended the moratorium, now set to expire July 31, saying this will be the last time the ban is extended. One of the reasons the moratorium was put in place was to prevent further spread of COVID-19 by people put out on the streets and into shelters, but now vaccines are widely available.
To qualify for protection under the CDC moratorium, tenants must certify, among other things, that they face a substantial drop in household income and are making their best efforts to pay at least part of what is owed.
The federal moratorium has been in place since September. Iowa also had a state moratorium, but that was lifted by Gov. Kim Reynolds in May 2020, leaving the federal ban as the only protection for renters facing eviction.
Alex Kornya, general counsel at Iowa Legal Aid, said he’s concerned that evictions will spike in Iowa once the CDC moratorium ends, particularly because the state quit participating in enhanced unemployment benefits this month, depriving recipients of $300 a week in federal aid.
“We see enough out there to be extremely worried about what the future will hold,” Kornya said.
Some local officials are already seeing it. Stephanie Pickinpaugh, manager of the Coordinated Entry system with the Institute for Community Alliances office in Sioux City, said roughly a dozen people have approached her organization seeking help.
“We’ve already had a few people that haven’t paid, or haven’t been able to pay or are behind, coming with their three-day notice to quit,” Pickinpaugh said. “So landlords are already starting that process of documenting their efforts, so that when the eviction moratorium does end, they can move right into the eviction process.”
Some local leaders said the moratorium has been helpful.
In Scott County, the number of writs of possession — essentially a legal eviction notice — issued during a 15-month period from March 2020 through June 2021 was roughly half what it was in the 15 months before.
Linn County community outreach and assistance Director Ashely Balius said the moratorium has helped keep people housed during a shortage.
“We’ve always known we needed more housing and affordable housing, but man, we have been thankful for the moratorium,” Balius said. “It’s hard for local programs who are housing folks to get people housed because there are no vacancies.”
Balius said her hope is that the county will be ready with programs and help from the emergency rental assistance program before the moratorium expires, whenever that may be, to stall evictions so there isn’t a “mass exodus.”
“The Linn County Courthouse can only do so many evictions per day so that will also help stifle the flow a little bit,” she said. “However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now, we’re looking at August. It is going to be a difficult month. I think there will be a lot of people in and out of units so we are trying to set things up so we don’t see a substantial increase in our homeless population.”
The county will aim to get millions of dollars from the assistance program in the hands of renters and landlords.
“Like homeowners, landlords were affected by the derecho, too, and had to pay a lot of money for repairs and may have not (have) been getting income during that time,” Balius said. “Some are in precarious situations as well, especially those smaller landowners so they are critical partners in this, too.”
Cedar Rapids community development Director Jennifer Pratt said the city has spent about $1 million to help more than 650 households through its eviction prevention program, which provides low- to moderate-income households grappling with the impacts of COVID-19 with rent and utility payment assistance. The city launched the program last April.
The city has more than a year to spend the remaining money — about $550,000 currently allocated to Cedar Rapids, Pratt said.
Cedar Rapids also leverages efforts from Linn County, the Iowa Finance Authority and local nonprofits to avoid duplicating resources and provide aid where it is needed, Pratt said.
As the end of the CDC’s moratorium on evictions looms, Pratt said the city has urged people to seek eviction prevention assistance now and not wait until the moratorium expires.
“We would love to get people in as soon as possible so there’s not a big rush or push at the end, so at this point, we have everything in place ready to go,” Pratt said.
Some organizations that help Iowans in need of housing or shelter are worried about an influx of new people in need once the moratorium lifts. The Salvation Army of Waterloo/Cedar Falls recently noted it was forced to combine its women’s and men’s shelters into one facility, citing a critical staffing shortage. The organization is looking for two full-time employees and at least four part-timers to be able to adequately staff two shelters again.
Until the positions are filled and new employees trained — perhaps by the end of the summer — Maj. Shannon Thies said the organization is leaning on its partners, like Operation Threshold and Jesse Cosby Center, for help for families before they get to the point of needing shelter.
“We’re thankful it has been extended another month to help them get through difficult times,” Thies said.
Not all local officials agree the eviction moratorium has been helpful. Justin Stotts, executive director of the North Iowa Regional Housing Authority, said the program may just be kicking a problem down the road.
“I feel that a moratorium is not really beneficial unless you provide some type of support to help tenants get out of a situation where they’re facing eviction because of an inability to pay rent,” Stotts said. “Just keeping landlords from being able to evict tenants without helping those tenants pay the rent is not a workable situation long-term. It makes the landlord suffer and that could be why landlords don’t want to participate with low-end clients.”
Karen Mackey, executive director of the Sioux City Human Rights Commission, also noted the issue that landlords face as a result of the eviction moratorium, although some resources have been made available to landlords in addition to renters.
“This has been a problem for not just tenants, and not just homeowners, but landlords — they’re still trying to make payments. Often they don’t own the property free and clear, and maybe now their tenants can’t pay the rent because they’ve been impacted by COVID,” Mackey said. “So it’s been a problem for a lot of different folks.”
Contributing to this report: Mason Dockter, Sioux City Journal; Jared McNett, Mason City Globe Gazette; Lee Hermiston, Gage Miskimen and Marissa Payne, The Gazette; Tom Loewy, Quad-City Times; Amie Rivers, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier; and the Associated Press.