Iowans Still Struggling to Pay Their Rent or Mortgage During Pandemic

National News

Des Moines, Iowa — Lisa Deterding and her two children live in a two-bedroom home on Des Moines’ north side.  She rents it from the Highland Park Community Church, which also happens to be her employer.

“I work at the thrift store and I also do the books for them,” says Deterding.

Lisa say she nets about $1400 a month.  Her daughter also collects $700 a month in disability because her kidneys are failing.  That brings the monthly household income to $2100.  $900 of that goes towards rent, leaving just $1100 for all other expenses.

“Then the Covid started and my hours were reduced and we had to use all the rent money to buy all the cleaning supplies and make sure the water bill was paid… and definitely food.”

Lisa is not alone.

“Last year we helped about 120 families with housing issues directly,” says Anne Bacon, Executive Director of Impact Iowa, an organization that helps people meet basic needs like food, shelter, and utilities.  “Right now, we have about 750 people that we are working with.”

Twenty to thirty people are added to Impact’s wait list ever week.

“We are concerned about what will happen moving forward,” says Bacon.  “Our hope is that landlords will continue to be patient even though these landlords have bills to pay as well and they lost tremendous amounts of income.”

It appears, at least so far, landlords are working with tenants.

Eviction notices filed with the Polk County Clerk of Court are down.  378 notices were filed from June first through July 14th of this year, compared to 629 filed during the same time last year.  But Bacon isn’t sure that trend will continue, especially if the Coronavirus relief money runs out.

Impact has set aside a million dollars to help people stay in their homes, but it is nearly gone.  The city of Des Moines has allocated $600,000 in Community Development Block Grants for housing assistance.  And Governor Reynolds has given the Iowa Finance Authority $20 million in federal funds to help people pay their rent and mortgages.  But even that may not be enough.

“Very unlikely,” says Bacon.  “But time will tell.”

This could very well go on for months or years before the economy gets back to normal,” says Eric Burmeister, Executive Director of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund.   

He says this could be the tipping point for many people on the brink of homelessness.

“Now that there’s no protection from eviction, if there is no on-going federal or state dollars to help people with rent, either because it’s run out or because the rules don’t permit it to be used long term, then yes, we will see people lose their homes.”

Deterding knows that possibility all too well.

“We could’ve lost our house… we’d have to figure out a place to go.”

“I do think we’ll start to see an increase in unsheltered population and an increase in shelter bed use,” says Burmeister.

Bacon agrees that the homeless population will increase.

“Absolutely, especially around the idea of what a homeless person is – double up with another family, stay in someone’s basement.”

The solution to the problem, according to Bacon, is higher level.

“We have a disaster assistance fund at the state of Iowa.  So, if a natural disaster happens, we can very quickly put things in place to help families.  I think we need to look at economic disasters in much the same way and be prepared on how to move forward instead of build the ship while we’re sailing it.”

Lisa looks to a higher power.

“I’m basically putting my trust in the Lord.”

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