Nearly 4.5 million people — an estimated 48,246 Iowans among them — who have fallen behind on rent or mortgage payments face the possibility of eviction, according to the Household Pulse Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau. With the federal moratorium on evictions set to expire in two weeks (July 31), anxiety is sure to cause sleepless nights for many of these renters and homeowners. Let us ask ourselves, “What can we do to keep people in their homes?”
Financial help is available — up to $46.55 billion in Emergency Rental Relief from two COVID-19 relief bills, one passed during the Trump Administration and the other during the Biden Administration. The State of Iowa received $195 million for its Iowa Rent and Utility Assistance Program, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced in March. However, problems with the application process have prevented many anxious renters from getting the help they need.
The Iowa Finance Authority, which administers the program (excluding in Polk County and Des Moines), is now responding to the crisis, working with the software platform provider to resolve the glitches and tripling the number of case managers (now totaling 300) to serve applicants. IFA Communications Director Ashley Jared told The Catholic Messenger on July 12 that the agency has received 7,664 complete applications for rent and/or utility assistance as of July 12. Of that number, 3,806 are still in review or need to be reviewed. Processing applications in a timely manner is a top priority, she said. It must be.
The affordable housing crisis began long before the first cases of coronavirus appeared in Iowa in mid-March 2020. Our commitment to the dignity of the human person requires both a reactive response for the short term and a proactive response for the long term. To start, share the following information from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with renters and homeowners experiencing shocks from the pandemic and its economic fallout:
• Until July 31, individuals can present a declaration form to their landlord stating they cannot pay rent due to lost income or high expenses. Everyone on the lease needs to sign the form. Eligibility requirements and the form are available at (https://tinyurl.com/7m83xjak).
• The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (https://tinyurl.com/vffcsbf7) can provide up to 18 months back rent, utilities, moving expenses, late fees and other expenses. Specific coverage and income eligibility limits depend on where you live. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (https://tinyurl.com/y8ruf5hm) provides resources to help renters understand more about the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
• Connect individuals with a HUD-approved housing counselor at (https://tinyurl.com/csvw9tcc) or by calling (800) 569-4287. Individuals who risk losing their home or who need support related to housing can visit (usa.gov/finding-home) or (https://tinyurl.com/3jbxub8x).
• Iowa Legal Aid, a nonprofit organization providing critical legal assistance to low-income and vulnerable Iowans who have nowhere else to turn, provides helpful information on its website (https://tinyurl.com/7waepu36) regarding evictions during the pandemic. The agency reports that the Iowa Rent and Utility Assistance Program is now open for applications (https://tinyurl.com/3y34r48y). Help with other public and private rent assistance funds is available by calling 211. For information on rent assistance available by county, go to (houseiowa.org).
The road to housing security requires our commitment as people of faith, as citizens, as members of the communities in which we live to strategies that embrace subsidiarity, bringing everyone involved to the table. We can support the strategies that the Biden Administration announced June 24 to help state and local governments prevent evictions and promote housing stability. These strategies include:
• Urging our state and local courts to participate in eviction diversion efforts. Diversion programs will help landlords and tenants reach agreement and access emergency rental assistance in addition to other available resources to keep families in their homes while making landlords whole (whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements).
• Targeting outreach to vulnerable tenants. HUD is working with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to provide vulnerable tenants with information about federal assistance available to avoid eviction. These efforts include media campaigns and collaboration with state and local housing offices and public housing authorities and the promotion of toolkits and renter-oriented materials for tenants and guidance to housing providers about best practices and emergency rental assistance.
• Aligning philanthropic supports. HUD is developing a memorandum of understanding with Melville Charitable Trust to build the capacity of community-based organizations, cities, states and tribes to administer federal dollars efficiently and equitably.
• Supporting homeowners. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FFHA) will continue to work with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to ensure that borrowers are evaluated for home retention solutions prior to any referral to foreclosure.
Beyond these measures, we as individuals and as members of parishes can apply our time, talent and/or treasure to keep people in their homes. Donate to nonprofit organizations in your community or diocese that help low-income families, such as Diocesan Works of Charity (July 24-25 collection in our diocese), and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (Nov. 20-21 collection). The United Way, Iowa Legal Aid and Iowa Community Action Agencies (iowacommunityaction.org) also do excellent work to assist people in ways that make it more likely they will keep their homes.
Volunteer at a nonprofit. Advocate for affordable housing initiatives at city council and county board of supervisors meetings. Pray for all to have a permanent place to call home. Finally, let us continue to ask ourselves, “What can we do to keep people in their homes?”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor