Dubuque’s homeless shelters have not experienced a rise in demand for housing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But directors are bracing for an “avalanche” of admissions when Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ moratorium on evictions and home foreclosures expires May 28.
“We just know we are going to get blasted,” said Carol Gebhart, executive director of Opening Doors, a nonprofit organization that oversees Teresa Shelter and two other facilities.
The shelter provides emergency and extended stay services to homeless women and children and can accommodate about 30 beds. It is at about 50% capacity and not accepting new clients because it lacks space to quarantine potentially COVID-19-positive individuals.
However, no eligible people have applied for admission and no residents have tested positive for coronavirus, Gebhart said.
Dubuque Rescue Mission, a men’s homeless shelter, also has not seen an increase in demand for boarding.
“I think it’s out of fear,” said Executive Director Rick Mihm. “They think, ‘I can stay outside. Why would I want to go and expose myself to other people in a small space?’”
The shelter has capacity for 32 residents, but just 22 men live there.
While residents must socially distance and their movement outside the shelter is restricted, the Rescue Mission’s efforts are necessarily constrained because residents share rooms.
Todd Schmidt, staff attorney with Iowa Legal Aid in Dubuque, said the state moratorium does not forgive tenants’ rent obligations.
“It simply says the landlord is not allowed to take any steps to evict a tenant while a moratorium is in place,” he said. “We do advise people to pay rent if they can while the moratorium is in effect.”
Schmidt likewise fears the state will see an “avalanche” of evictions when the moratoriums expire because the eviction process moves so quickly in Iowa, compared to other states.
An added layer of protection, he said, is a clause within the federal CARES Act that prevents new eviction filings for unpaid rent until July 25 on federally connected leases, including those connected to the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and Section 8 programs.
To address problems in advance, the City of Dubuque has allocated $20,000 for rental and utility assistance payments for low-income residents.
“We want to make sure people are paid and up to date as soon as possible so they are not facing that eviction,” said city Housing and Community Development Director Alexis Steger. “There is only so long that some of our landlords can go without payment.”