Thousands of Dubuque residents have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic, but rent and mortgage payments still are due.
And with a state eviction moratorium set to expire next week, city officials are bracing for a wave of evictions.
Members of the city’s Community Development Advisory Commission this week unanimously approved a program to offer up to $1,000 per month per household for three months to assist low- and moderate-income renters and homeowners whose income has been reduced due to the ongoing pandemic.
“We do expect an influx (of evictions), and we hope this program will benefit both tenant and landlord,” city Housing and Community Development Director Alexis Steger said. “Some landlords will wait on evictions and sort out state and federal regulations, and some want to keep helping residents by offering payment plans because it’s not like the economy is fully open at this point.”
While state and federal officials have issued temporary bans on eviction, landlords still are filing eviction papers, and without a stronger state and federal response, the U.S. appears headed toward an unprecedented housing crisis, according to data from Princeton University’s The Eviction Lab.
As people lost their jobs and incomes, about 12% of renters nationwide didn’t make their May payments, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council.
While landlords have been encouraged to be flexible, waive late fees and delay rent increases, most operate within thin margins and take out loans to finance their properties, making it difficult for them to absorb an extended break in monthly rent, according to the housing council and industry officials. Landlords still must pay taxes, insurance and staff to maintain their properties.
In March, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued an emergency proclamation that temporarily suspended evictions for past-due rent under state law, to “help prevent the transmission of infectious disease and help ensure that cases of COVID-19 are properly controlled and treated.”
Alex Kornya, litigation director for Iowa Legal Aid, stressed that the governor’s order does not freeze rent during the pandemic but “delays the inevitable requirement to pay what’s been accrued.”
Reynolds’ eviction moratorium is set to expire on Wednesday, May 27, with City of Dubuque officials anticipating an influx in demand for rental help come June 1.
Additionally, federal funding providing an additional $600 per week to those receiving unemployment insurance benefits is set to expire July 25.
“So we will see an additional influx,” Steger said.
Nearly 25% of all renters in the city spend at least half of their annual income on rent, according to city officials.
The commission previously recommended, and City Council approved, using $20,000 out of about $650,000 in federal grant funds the city received for COVID-19 relief to provide short-term rental and mortgage assistance. And city officials anticipate receiving another approximately $500,000 from the state for the program.
To qualify for rental and mortgage assistance, applicants must have been working as of Jan. 1 and, as a result of pandemic, either lost employment completely or had their monthly income reduced by at least 50%.
They must have applied for unemployment benefits and have been current on rent or mortgage payments and all household utilities as of March 1. They also must meet federal household income requirements
During this week’s meeting, Community Development Advisory Commission Member Dean Boles questioned the household income cutoffs and who would be served by the program. He said the income limits were “awfully darn” low “to help very many people.”
Steger envisioned the program would help college students and recent graduates who have lost or struggle to find work “that didn’t get any stimulus checks because they’re still on their parents’ tax return.”
“They’re still trying to make it on their own and can’t meet rent,” she said.