116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
After losing his maintenance job at the Heartland Inn in Coralville earlier this year, Shane Austin was unemployed for several months before he found work as a house painter.
But before he could start that job, he got notice he was being evicted from his apartment in Hills for not paying August rent.
“Anybody can be a month late,” said Austin, 56.
He didn’t want to leave the place he’s lived for more than three years with his Maine coon cat, Rascal. His adult daughter comes to stay with him occasionally. “I’m comfortable there. I like the small community, ” he said.
Austin’s eviction proceedings were scheduled for court Aug. 30. But when he got to the Johnson County Courthouse, he was relieved to learn his landlord had dismissed the case — at least for now.
Austin is among 46.1 percent of Iowans reporting they aren’t current on housing payments and are somewhat or very likely to be evicted or foreclosed upon. The U.S. Census Household Pulse survey for Aug. 18-30 shows Iowa is 11th highest in the nation for residents believing they’re at risk of losing their housing.
A federal order halting evictions for unpaid rent during the COVID-19 pandemic expired Aug. 26. This opened the door for landlords — many of whom have lost out on months of income from their properties and facing bills of their own — to resume evictions for non-payment.
Who is facing eviction?
The pandemic broadened eviction fears for a larger share of the population because of lost jobs in sectors including food service, leisure and travel, construction and retail. More than 30 million Americans — 1 in 5 renter households — were at risk of eviction in August 2020, according to a report by the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project and the Aspen Institute.
Evictions for years have disproportionately affected women, people with disabilities and people of color, said Jim Kringlen, managing lawyer for the Iowa City regional office of Iowa Legal Aid, during a presentation last Wednesday at the Iowa Finance Authority’s HousingIowa conference in Cedar Rapids. Out of the 22,835 eviction intakes that Iowa Legal Aid opened between 2015 and 2020:
- 71 percent involved women as primary clients
- 37 percent were people with disabilities
- 33 percent were people of color across the state. In Linn County, this was 42 percent and in Johnson County, 56 percent
Delays in aid programs
Two rounds of federal money — $25 billion in December and another $21.55 billion in March — have been funneled to states to provide rental assistance to eligible households.
To qualify, renters or landlords must attest they’ve received unemployment benefits, experienced a reduction in income, incurred significant costs or experienced other financial hardship during or due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the U.S. Treasury reported.
Only $3 billion, or 6.5 percent of the funds, had been distributed to landlords and tenants as of the end of June, USA Today reported. That figure had increased to 11 percent by Aug. 25, according to the Associated Press.
The delay has been blamed on complicated federal requirements and state agencies stalling because they didn’t know exactly how to distribute the federal relief funds.
The Iowa Finance Authority set up a rental assistance program with $195 million from the federal government, but as of last week had distributed just $15.2 million, or less than 8 percent, for rent and utility assistance.
The Finance Authority told The Gazette on Thursday the agency has received 13,088 applications so far, with 1,803 being reviewed currently. A total of 5,615 households have received assistance so far, with the bulk of the money — $13.76 million — going for rent. Another $1.46 million has gone to 2,250 households for utilities.
Nonprofits help out
Local groups, including Shelter House in Iowa City, have stepped in to speed funds to renters and landlords.
Shelter House employees have teamed up with Iowa Legal Aid to hold a clinic at the Johnson County Courthouse on Mondays when eviction hearings are held. They meet with landlords and tenants before or after hearings to see if they can help the parties apply for rental assistance, said Rachel Lehmann, rapid rehousing program manager for Shelter House.
The agency has some money from Iowa City, Johnson County and the state to pay prospective rent to keep the tenants in their homes until the state applications can be processed, she said. Since Jan. 1, Shelter House has paid out more than $1 million in cash assistance through both the eviction prevention and rapid rehousing programs.
“Another thing we do is eviction hearing outreach,” Lehmann said. “We’ll review the list of those facing eviction through the courts and we’ll try to call the landlords to see if we can work something out in advance. It’s very stressful to lose housing.”
Austin met with Legal Aid and Shelter House at the courthouse Aug. 30. Shelter House offered to contact his landlord and help pay Austin’s rent until he can start his new painting job, he said. Austin also has gotten help with his utility payments from the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program.
Landlords ‘singled out’
The rental moratorium, while needed in a pandemic, singled out landlords for financial losses, said Christopher Warnock, an Iowa City lawyer who represents landlords and tenants.
“The problem I see with the eviction moratorium is it was very much a Band-Aid approach to the problem,” Warnock said. “When landlords collect rent, a big chunk goes to property tax and the mortgage. Then they have you pay for maintenance. To come in and say ‘no more rent’ was never going to be a long-term solution.“
Larger rental property owners have staff and legal counsel and know how to get rental assistance, but mom-and-pop landlords may not know how to access the federal aid, Warnock said.
State agencies like the Finance Authority are blamed if aid distribution is slow, he noted, but at the same time they also must watch out for fraud.
Iowa Legal Aid offers this advice for Iowans struggling to make rent: Do not wait. If you are unable to pay your rent, many agencies currently have rental assistance funds available.
• In Linn County, contact Waypoint Services at 319-356-1458 or 319-366-7999
• For elsewhere in the state, the Iowa Finance Authority has assistance available at iowafinance.com or (855) 300-5885.
To learn about other rent assistance programs in your area, call 211 or visit Houseiowa.org.
If you are not able to pay your rent on time, you may get a notice from your landlord. Iowa law requires:
• The notice must be in writing.
• The notice has to say the lease will end if rent is not paid within three days of being served the notice.
• The notice has to be properly served to you.
• This three-day period gives you a “right to cure” by paying the rent within those three days.
• If you pay the full amount of rent in three days, the landlord cannot legally evict you. You should always try to get proof of payment.
If you cannot pay the rent within the three days, you do not have to move out right away. The landlord must first file an eviction action in court. Only a judge can lawfully evict a tenant. You have the right to appear in front of a judge before an eviction can be ordered. It is important you come to your hearing or you are likely to be evicted by default.
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