116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — With the federal ban on pandemic-related apartment evictions now over, Iowa Legal Aid saw an uptick Monday in the number of tenants in Linn County seeking its help and reached agreements that — at least for now — stave off evictions for the individuals it represented.
The moratorium that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention enacted last September prevented millions of households with financial hardship across the nation from being evicted during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Now as the ban expired over the weekend, local groups are trying to help those who may face eviction pay their bills.
An Iowa Legal Aid a help desk at the Linn County Courthouse was busy Monday with two attorneys seeing 15 Linn County residents facing eviction. On average, the organization has about six appointments a day.
A partnership with Linn County helps Iowa Legal Aid maintain a physical presence at the Linn County Courthouse to provide legal assistance, as well as rent and utility aid on the spot through Waypoint Services.
The county is providing stopgap funding to help cover two months of rent for individuals before launching its larger rental assistance program Aug. 16.
Iowa Legal Aid also has help-desk locations in Johnson, Black Hawk, Polk and Scott counties.
“There are 730 (total eviction cases) on the docket right now in the state,” Iowa Legal Aid Assistant Litigation Director Ericka Petersen told The Gazette.
Petersen said that in Linn County, 201 total eviction hearings are scheduled through Sept. 9. On Monday, Iowa Legal Aid was able to represent eight tenants and of those eight, no one was evicted. One person agreed to move out and another’s hearing will continue next week.
“If an eviction is filed today, one might not have the chance to talk to a judge until Sept. 9,” she said. “They try to schedule six eviction hearings a day and Linn County is the second busiest docket for evictions in the state behind Polk County.”
Petersen said an eviction surge is expected, and despite the rental aid programs some tenants are likely to be ousted.
“There are a lot of resources available right now and Linn County has been working extra hard to get those going right now,” Petersen said. “I think we are going to be able to help a lot of tenants. But there’s no way we have a spike like this and everyone will be able to stay housed.”
Linn County Community Outreach and Assistance Director Ashley Balius said the stopgap funding program was developed to prevent evictions when rent payments were the only issue between a tenant and a landlord.
“The program offers the two full months of rent with an agreement from the landlord to not file eviction until October,” Balius said. “Because at that point, we hope the tenant will have the opportunity for the larger assistance program we will have. It gives people a buffer and it puts money in the pockets of the landlords. The sole purpose of the stop gap is to avoid eviction whenever possible.”
Once the Linn County rental and utility assistance program is fully up and running Aug. 16, residents here will no longer be able to apply for aid through a similar state program, though anyone who already has applied by then will still have the application processed by the state.
The full county program will be able to provide up to 18 months worth of assistance — up to three months of which can be used for prospective rent, Balius said.
“One of the great things about the program is there is no maximum financial amount. It’s a monthly amount, no matter what your rent is. It’s great because we are actually meeting people’s needs,” Balius said.
Balius said those seeking aid will have to provide a self-attestation, which she said is a lower documentation burden than the existing state program. Individuals must have experienced some sort of financial impact since March 2020, so households still grappling with financial impacts from last summer’s derecho may qualify also.
To access this assistance when the program launches, residents must go to the Linn County Courthouse and be present for their scheduled eviction hearings, Balius added. Waypoint also will be available to help tenants complete their applications; otherwise the application will be accessible online in over 90 different languages.
As of Monday, the Iowa Finance Authority has also worked through its initial influx of applications received through the Iowa Rent and Utility Assistance Program.
The program provides renters who are at risk of eviction due to financial hardship directly or indirectly related to the pandemic with rent and utility assistance for a total of up to 12 months in back payment assistance.
The program has received 9,000 applications and has assisted more than 3,000 households in 91 counties, providing more than $9 million in assistance.
In Linn County, $1.3 million has been distributed to assist 506 households.
Those in need of assistance are encouraged to apply through the program and contact Iowa Legal Aid to inquire about legal assistance that also may be available to them at no cost. The state program application is available online at iowahousingrecovery.com
Iowa Legal Aid Litigation Director and General Counsel Alex Kornya said Iowa Legal Aid “strongly encourages” landlords to assist their tenants with the rent and utility assistance program and receive a decision before proceeding with eviction action in court.
“The vast majority of evictions really come down to economics for landlords and tenants alike,” Kornya said. “Letting the rental assistance system work is in the best economic interests of everyone involved.”
Comments: (319) 398-8255; firstname.lastname@example.org