A local program and partnership between county officials, Iowa Legal Aid and Polk County Housing Trust Fund has kept nearly 300 people from eviction and homelessness. File photo

In March, no one expected the coronavirus pandemic to morph into the lasting crisis that it is. Workers didn’t expect to lose their work and residents didn’t expect to lose their housing, but both became a reality for many in Central Iowa neighborhoods. 


But in the span of five weeks, a local program and partnership between county officials, Iowa Legal Aid and Polk County Housing Trust Fund has kept nearly 300 people from eviction and homelessness.


Funded through the county and specifically its Disaster Recovery Partnership, $800,000 was allocated to address the spike in eviction cases in Polk County. Nick Smithberg, executive director at Iowa Legal Aid, reported a trend of eviction cases doubling compared with a normal year. 

“A loss of employment is really a key driver, which is triggered by more than one cause. Some of it is the employer fired them. But some people also have had to contend with health issues, with child care issues, school closures. It certainly has been something that disproportionately impacts women and people of color,” Smithberg said.


As tenants arrive at the Polk County Courthouse for eviction hearings, staff from the partner organizations, including Housing Trust Fund Executive Director Eric Burmeister, intervene and seek a solution. 

“Many times that [solution] is simply paying what it is that they owe, or at least a big portion of what they owe,” Burmeister said. 

Currently those costs come out of the $800,000 budget, and in five weeks the program has used about $300,000. As the program continues, the partners hope to direct tenants to existing resources that can help prevent an eviction from ever occurring.


Eric Kool, director of Polk County Community, Family and Youth Services, said less than 20% of those coming to the courthouse are applying for extant emergency assistance programs. 

“The conditions for low-wage workers who are already working pretty close to the margin have not improved. It's not better, and it's probably going to get worse over the winter. So let's get people more attuned to those existing programs and take advantage of those,” Kool said. 

The program seeks to educate landlords as well so they can share resources and offer assistance to their tenants.


RESOURCES
For rental assistance, residents should apply to these programs in this order.

  1. Iowa Finance Authority, 855-300-5885
  1. West Des Moines Human Services, 515-222-3660 (for West Des Moines residents only)
  1. Home Inc., 515-243-1277
  1. Polk County General Assistance, 515-286-2088

Eviction resources for Polk County Residents are located here.
View an informative video on eviction for tenants and landlords.