The federal moratorium on evictions through the COVID-19 pandemic ends July 31, which could prompt hundreds of people in Dubuque to be kicked out of dwellings because of lack of payment.
When the prior moratorium ended just more than a year ago, the Dubuque area saw a jump in evictions that landlords had waited up to three months to file. In just the first week in which landlords were allowed to file petitions, 80 eviction hearings were scheduled at the Dubuque County Courthouse.
Then in September, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued another nationwide moratorium that has been in place since.
But it ends at the end of this month, with no signal yet of any intent to extend it.
Alexis Steger, director of the City of Dubuque Housing and Community Development Department, is preparing for a wave of even more evictions.
“We do expect the increase. We just haven’t seen it yet with the moratorium continuing to get extended,” she said. “It takes about 45 days to go through an eviction. So, we’ve got 45 days (after July 31) until we see the increase.”
She said hundreds of people might become homeless via evictions.
“So we’ve got some time, but we’re trying to prep now for some more rapid rehousing capacity,” Steger said. “Rapid rehousing is basically, if you get evicted, it’s a place for you or your family temporarily to be. They try to get you relocated in three months to a permanent place.”
The city is partnering with Community Solutions of Eastern Iowa for that program.
The city is also partnering with Dupaco Community Credit Union on a credit repair program.
“As people are coming out of some of the COVID losses they experienced, credit scores went down,” Steger said. “It’s harder to buy a home if that’s what you were working to attain right before COVID.”
But the city also will return to normal water utility operations soon, which could create another hurdle for people who are behind.
“Late fees weren’t being applied. Water shut-offs were suspended for COVID,” Steger said. “We’re making a concerted effort to see who is behind on water (and) who would be up for shut-off if we were to restart those operations. A water shut-off can lead to an eviction. The last thing we want to do is increase the number.”
For renters who are behind and want to stave off a coming problem when the moratorium ends, Steger pointed to some of the many resources available, beginning with the rent and utility assistance program through Iowa Finance Authority.
Through that, renters who are or have been on unemployment during the pandemic, who have experienced any other drop in household income or who can prove a risk of impending homelessness can qualify for up to 12 months of back rent, utilities or both.
“If people are starting to worry about how to pay their rent, that’s the number one resource,” Steger said.
East Central Intergovernmental Association now handles Dubuque County’s general assistance program, which can provide rent or utility help. There are other nonprofit organizations also offering help. Steger directed those in need to the homeless hot line at 833-587-8322.
The problems with rent not being paid have frustrated and harmed many area landlords as well, according to Steger, who meets monthly with the Dubuque Landlords Association.
“The moratorium did not stop you from owing the rent,” she said. “But in reality, some of these landlords are preparing to never be paid for those months that people lived in their place. That’s a hard business model, especially for those smaller landlords who have just one or two units and maybe they financed those units. We’re going to see some properties changing hands, where people say, ‘My way out is to sell right now.’”
Steger said some landlords worked well with their tenants for months, but the moratorium’s length proved too long.
“They’d been working hand-in-hand with their renters, but then maybe halfway through COVID, the tenants stopped communicating and stopped paying,” she said.
Lynn Lampe, vice president of the landlords association, said all of his renters kept up with their payments, but he was aware that he had been luckier than many.
“Some tenants interpreted this whole thing as, ‘I don’t have to pay rent because the government said I don’t have to,’” he said. “But if you can’t get ahold of somebody, can’t get them to open the door and you can’t evict them, what can you do? Your hands were bound.”
Lampe said he and his organization were glad to have their last resort returned with the moratorium’s end.
“When the government offers resources to help tenants pay their rents, the landlords then pay their mortgages. There is no more reason for a moratorium,” he said.
The U.S. Supreme Court this week declined to hear a movement to end the moratorium early.