The Polk County Board of Supervisors today approved allocating up to $800,000 to the Polk County Housing Trust Fund to pay back rent owed by people about to be evicted from apartments and other housing.

Polk County Community, Family & Youth Services, working with the Housing Trust Fund and Iowa Legal Aid, is identifying people whose eviction hearings are being held this week and next and helping them either get other emergency assistance or paying their back rent from the $800,000 allocation, Eric Kool, director of Community, Family & Youth Services, told the supervisors.

Advocates at the Polk County Courthouse “are pulling [cases] off the docket and doing last-minute remediations,” Kool said. “They are also reaching out to folks who might be on the docket next week, to try and get them to apply for these other emergency assistance programs and see if the eviction can be avoided. 

“This is really an important effort to prevent eviction and homelessness.”

Nick Smithberg, Iowa Legal Aid’s executive director, this week estimated Iowa is experiencing a 40% increase in eviction cases compared with a year ago. 

The current spike in evictions is attributed to the July 24 expiration of a moratorium that had protected from eviction renters who live in buildings with some form of government backing.  

Landlords are required to give renters 30 days’ notice before filing an eviction complaint in court. Those notices began expiring last week. 

Advocates say many of the people who face evictions lost their jobs for reasons related to COVID-19.

The eviction court case filings are occurring at a time when Polk County has reached a seven-day average COVID-19 positivity rate of more than 10%. Spikes in the virus are also occurring in other counties, prompting Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds last week to order bars closed in six Iowa counties.

On Monday, Kool said advocates were able to prevent five evictions; landlords in three other cases withdrew their eviction petitions, he said. Still, eight evictions went forward, some because renters failed to show up for hearings, Kool said.

“I see this as a short-term fix,” Supervisor Robert Brownell said. “It’s a win-win: Renters aren’t evicted and landlords get [their back rent].”

Matt McCoy, supervisors chairperson, this week said the $800,000 is from the $6.2 million Polk County will receive from the state of Iowa through the federal CARES Act. Much of that money has been spent on personal protection equipment for county employees, additional staffing at the jail and resources for the county’s child care centers and homeless shelter.

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