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End Of Eviction Moratorium Coincides With Unrelated Mass Evictions At Six Iowa Apartment Complexes

for rent sign
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
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AP
Iowa renters and housing advocates are bracing for a potential wave of eviction filings this week after the federal pandemic-related hold on many evictions ended July 31.

Iowa renters and housing advocates are bracing for a potential wave of eviction filings this week after the federal pandemic-related hold on many evictions ended July 31. Meanwhile, residents of six affordable housing complexes in the state are facing mass evictions unrelated to the end of the moratorium, raising concerns about a major reduction in Iowa’s supply of affordable housing and renters having nowhere to go.

“I think everybody’s sort of sitting on pins and needles right now,” said Eric Burmeister, executive director of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund.

Burmeister said it’s not clear how many Iowans are behind on rent and have yet to be reached by various rental assistance programs established during the coronavirus pandemic.

In Polk County, the current federally-funded rental assistance program administered through IMPACT Community Action Partnership has distributed more than $16 million to renters since February 2021.

“So that’s our hope, is that we’ve reached a big chunk of those folks with the rental assistance,” Burmeister said. “If not, I think we’re prepared here in Polk County to meet that surge.”

Polk County residents facing eviction for nonpayment of rent can visit IMPACT’s website or call 515-518-4770 to apply for assistance. Iowans in all other counties can visit the Iowa Housing Recovery website or call 855-300-5885 to apply for help.

In a statement Monday, Iowa Legal Aid Litigation Director Alex Kornya said landlords are encouraged to help their tenants submit an application for assistance and to get a final decision before proceeding with an eviction.

“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.”

Thousands of Iowans may still be at risk of eviction in the coming weeks.

The state’s rental and utility assistance program for all counties other than Polk got off to a very slow start, as was first reported by the Des Moines Register, but has caught up on a backlog of applications as of last Friday.

The Iowa Finance Authority made improvements to its software system and hired more contractors to review applications, according to spokesperson Ashley Jared. She said the program has distributed about $9 million to more than 3,000 households in 91 counties. The federal government gave $195 million to Iowa for this program, and a second round of funding will become available.

On Friday, Jared said the state had not yet made a decision on whether to apply for the second round of funding. The Des Moines Register previously reported IFA Director Debi Durham said the state was unlikely to tap into additional funding.

IMPACT Executive Director Anne Bacon said the assistance program for Polk County is already partly through its second round of federal funding and expects to spend it all by mid-September.

“We are hopeful that the state will consider requesting round two funds as we are seeing a deep need for assistance,” Bacon said.

At the same time, residents of six affordable housing complexes in Iowa are also facing unrelated mass evictions, according to Iowa Legal Aid, potentially affecting 590 rental units.

The mass evictions are pending at three apartment complexes in Des Moines, two in Davenport, and one in Storm Lake.

Kornya said many of these are happening because of changes in ownership and the new owners’ plans for repairs and renovations. One complex in Davenport has severe safety problems, and the one in Storm Lake is changing its rent prices from income-based rent to market rate, according to Kornya.

“It is just an extremely unfortunately timed set of events because it was already going to be bad enough, but now we have this unexpected additional strain on the market for extremely vulnerable people,” Kornya said.

He said there is already an affordable housing crisis in the state, and there is no guarantee these apartments will remain affordable after being renovated.

“Our worry is that in many of these instances, they will not,” Kornya said. “And in the meantime, the people who are living in these units are going to have to find somewhere else to live in a rental market that is already going to be extremely chaotic and difficult given the ending of the CDC moratorium.”

He fears some Iowans will have nowhere to go.

“There are no corresponding units being placed on the market at this point to replace what we’ve already lost, let alone all of these kind of simultaneous catastrophic loss of available units in the market,” Kornya said.

Kornya said rental assistance is needed for the tenants but also for the landlords so that they have the resources to keep up with necessary repairs to keep affordable housing safe.

Eric Burmeister with the Polk County Housing Trust Fund said he wants tenants to know that getting an eviction notice doesn’t mean they have to leave. Tenants don’t have to move out until a judge tells them they must leave.

“Let’s not panic,” Burmeister said. “Certainly tenants, don’t panic. Because there is assistance available. The tenants have legal rights.”

Renters who are facing eviction can contact Iowa Legal Aid for free legal assistance.

Polk County residents can visit IMPACT’s website or call 515-518-4770 to apply for financial assistance.

Iowans in all other counties can visit the Iowa Housing Recovery website or call 855-300-5885 to apply for financial assistance.