116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Last week The Gazette published an article citing federal census survey data that said that 41,000 Iowans fear eviction when the CDC eviction moratorium is lifted at the end of July. If these numbers are accurate this will cause shock waves throughout the local housing market and will continue the upward pressure on rents and home sale prices. How did we get here?
A brief overview: Last year President Donald Trump instructed the CDC to halt evictions and they did so using the logic that evicted people would be more likely to spread COVID-19 out into the communities. When President Joe Biden took office this eviction moratorium briefly lapsed but was reinstated and was upheld by the Supreme Court. The moratorium didn’t halt 100 percent of evictions but it did freeze the overwhelming majority. So in effect, tenants could have lived without paying rent for over a year and there was no way for landlords to kick them out.
I’m not going to make any judgments on the morality or wisdom of this decision and simply focus on the local impact. The estimated 41,000 facing possible eviction in the Iowa means somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 in the Cedar Rapids metro area. There are currently fewer than 200 listings for rentals on Zillow, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace combined. Even if just a couple hundred people are added to those looking, the economics of supply and demand would dictate that rents will rise and landlords will be able to choose from the highest qualified of the applicants, leaving the most marginalized (racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, the working class and poor folks) to fend for themselves.
If you think that it is not marginalized communities that will suffer the most, think again. It is the most marginalized who were the most impacted by the pandemic, and are still struggling with reduced incomes, lost jobs and caring for sick relatives. These groups also have a hard time connecting with information and resources and were the least likely to be eligible for Paycheck Protection Program loans and many other COVID response programs. And now these groups will be even more likely to have an eviction on their record and judgements against them.
You may think that if 1,000 people are evicted all at once then there are also suddenly 1,000 empty housing units. but there’s lag time between an eviction and an apartment being relisted and available. Recently vacated apartments usually need a little care before being ready to rent again. Some shady landlords will rent these new vacancies “as-is” and desperate people will have no other choice, but many landlords will choose to do repairs and that will take time, especially in this post-derecho economy where contractors are hard to come by. In theory the free market allows people to reward good landlords who have quality rentals but when the supply is so short and demand is so great, it doesn’t matter and rents will surely rise.
The city and county have been doing all they can to add capacity at shelters and have even worked out a deal with Iowa Legal Aid to have someone full time at the courthouse to try and connect those facing eviction with programs that can help catch them up on back rent and help connect them with new housing. I hope this is enough.
The city could also bring back the use of RVs and mobile homes to be used as short-term housing. After both the flood of 2008 and last year’s derecho, the city allowed people to live in their campers but usually this is not permitted in city limits. This might even be a time to take another look at that ordinance and update it altogether.
In the end this is a time to come together as a community and recognize the needs on our doorstep and focus on reforms that will make our city better able to address such events in the future.
Eric Gutschmidt is owner of Gutschmidt Properties in Cedar Rapids.