End of Federal Eviction Moratorium Brings Fears of More Homelessness
A group of homeless intake specialists all co-signed a letter to Gov. Kim Reynolds this month, asking her to uphold an eviction moratorium in Iowa. They said they were not surprised the U.S. Supreme Court ended the federal eviction moratorium. Now they fear homelessness could skyrocket in the state.
Bernadette Beck, a Centralized Intake specialist program manager with the Polk County Continuum of Care, said she is concerned that without a moratorium, more people will lose their housing, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic complicated people’s finances.
The homeless service providers said they have seen almost triple the number of people seeking housing assistance from the year prior to the start of COVID.
“We're gonna see more people entering our system, and the homeless crisis response system across the state of Iowa already has extensive waiting lists for housing programs," Beck said.
She said the state doesn’t have the capacity to absorb the number of people who may be affected by the end of the moratorium.
There are about 1,620 families currently on waitlists for housing programs. The most vulnerable on that list are prioritized. Beck explained if more people are added to the lists, that doesn't "resolve homelessness," rather it means there will be more people waiting for assistance for a longer amount of time.
"The likelihood is that we won't be able to support all of those clients if they're all evicted in the next two weeks or a month," Cassandra Kramer, coordinated entry specialist for the Institute for Community Alliances added.
Waypoint Services' director of housing services J’Nae Peterman helps run the statewide hotline for housing resources. She said it averages about 550 calls a day from people in housing crises.
"I foresee that only increasing now that people begin to receive their notices. Also shelters are already at capacity and have been beyond capacity since the time of COVID," Peterman said. "I anticipate shelters being unavailable to meet the need and our street counts increasing. And people that have never been homeless before ending up homeless and in a situation that you know, traumatizes people. And it's hard to come back from."
She said they just recently conducted an overnight count, which literally counts the number of individuals sleeping unsheltered at one night in time. Although she didn't yet have that number, she knows this year's will be "extremely high" and "a lot higher than it has ever been in the past."
Although the providers said COVID doesn't discriminate in terms of whose housing it will impact, Peterman said the elderly are one of the groups most at risk. And Courtney Guntly, the director of Iowa Balance of State Continuum of Care, said there wasn't enough affordable housing to help all those individuals before the pandemic.
"The pandemic has just exacerbated that," Guntly said. "People's income drastically shifted with the pandemic. So I think it has just highlighted all of the pieces that were already happening, you know, the lack of affordable housing, the lack of health care or childcare for families to be able to get good jobs to be able to pay for better housing. So I think the pandemic has just sort of made those disparities much clearer for everyone."
Jess Bleile, the associate director of Iowa Balance of State Continuum of Care, added she has seen the number of people who have never experience homelessness also increase due to COVID.
On the other side of renting, the co-signers of the letter to Reynolds said they understand landlords are in a pinch right now too. They said as people struggle to find affordable units to rent, landlords may be struggling with higher bills, so they have to increase the rent.
"So then again, we're back to kind of square one with the people that were trying to exit from homelessness," Beck said.
But the providers want landlords to know rental assistance programs in place can also benefit them as well as the renters. They urge them to utilize these resources before resorting to evictions.
"The funds can be used to help pay past overdue rent arrears utility or things like that. So it can help alleviate some of that stress that the landlord's feeling as well," Kramer said.
The providers also urged landlords to be patient and utilize this help. That way, people won't be put at risk of homelessness. They considered a safe place to stay an essential right.
"2020 was really difficult for all of us and 2021 has proven, you know, not to be much different," Beck, of Polk County Continuum of Care, said.
She said she has received a letter from the governor's office saying it has received the providers' plea for the eviction moratorium, but she has not heard anything more.
If you or someone you know is in need of housing assistance, see the attached links.
Iowa Rent And Utility Assistance Program
Polk County/Des Moines Emergency Rental Assistance Program
Homeless Service Agency Programs
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Information for Iowa
Call the statewide hotline for coordinated entry process: 1-833-739-0065