Polk County allocates $800,000 to assist residents facing eviction

By: - September 1, 2020 4:55 pm

President Biden is asking states and local governments to halt evictions for at least two months. A national moratorium on evictions ran out July 31. (Photo by iStock / Getty Images Plus)

The Polk County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday morning allocated $800,000 to assist hundreds of families in danger of becoming homeless due to the economic fallout of COVID-19.

Eric Burmeister is executive director of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund. (Photo courtesy of Polk County Housing Trust Fund)

By Tuesday afternoon, some of the money had assisted four families facing immediate eviction, said Eric Burmeister, executive director of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund.

“I will tell you we saved 12 children from sleeping in their cars tonight,” Burmeister said.

Burmeister said two of the renters were already back to work, but still owed rent from when they were out of work earlier this spring. Two others were moms who aren’t working because their child care providers closed rather than keep their homes open to kids during the pandemic, he said.

Also Tuesday, the Trump administration announced a temporary halt to evictions. But that doesn’t eliminate the need for some form of assistance, as renters’ debt merely accumulates during the moratorium and has to be repaid eventually, housing advocates say.

Polk County Supervisor Matt McCoy. (Photo courtesy of Matt McCoy)

Board Chairman Matt McCoy said there have been 1,200 eviction cases filed from Polk County. “Many people that we’re seeing in this eviction pool of 1,200 have not accessed social services before,” he said. “They’ve been employed.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the original to remove an incorrect reference to Iowa Legal Aid.

Many of them are young, service industry workers who were laid off from restaurants, hair and nail salons and other businesses that were shut down or have had to operate at reduced capacity, McCoy said. Some also have language barriers or need assistance due to physical or mental disability.

Meanwhile, several factors are expected to increase the need for assistance. The extra $600 per week of federal unemployment benefits has run out and will be replaced by President Trump’s executive action providing $300 per week.

In Polk County, about 6,000 people are expected to be affected by Gov. Kim Reynolds’ order to close all bars in the county until Sept. 20, McCoy said.

And power outages associated with the Aug. 10 derecho storms have ramped up the need for food assistance, as many families had their entire month’s meal budget wiped out by spoilage. McCoy said county emergency management officials were pessimistic this week that Polk County would qualify for either public or individual federal disaster assistance. Update: Polk County was approved for individual disaster assistance on Tuesday.

McCoy said the county has spent all the $6.2 million in federal CARES Act money allocated on a per capita basis by the state, plus more, on COVID-related investments. The $800,000 will come from money the county is still expecting to receive from the state, he said.

The county is working through the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, and officials anticipate they will be able to help at least 500 people through the program. Burmeister said the maximum the program paid in back rent for a single household on Tuesday was $2,500.

The county also has loosened the requirement for people to access general assistance funds of about $1.5 million. People can qualify if their income is 150% of the federal poverty level, instead of the usual standard of 100%, McCoy said.

How to access aid: McCoy encouraged any Polk County resident who is behind on rent due to COVID-19 or expects to experience difficulties to call 211 immediately, rather than waiting until eviction procedures are underway. That way, residents may be able to access other services and potentially avoid an eviction. “We want to get them on a sustainability program because bailing them out will only help them once,” he said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.