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Linn County launches financial assistance program to help residents facing eviction or utility shutoffs


Jason Smith/Little Village

Linn County residents facing eviction or falling behind on rent can apply for financial assistance through the county’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).

The county announced on Monday it is working with Waypoint and HACAP to administer rent and utility payments to those who are eligible for up to 18 months. Individuals must be able to provide documentation or self-certify experiencing a financial hardship in their household that has impacted their ability to pay rent.

A federal ban on evictions was announced last September by the CDC. The ban was extended in March and June, but expired on July 31. The Washington Post estimated there are “well over 6 million renters behind on payments.”

Days after the ban expired, the CDC issued a new 60-day order extending the moratorium on evictions until Oct. 3. This ban only applies to counties with “substantial” or “high” transmission of COVID-19, which now includes most of the country.

Linn County entered substantial transmission on July 27 and increased to high transmission shortly afterward on July 31, according to CDC data. The county has been in high transmission for all of August.

The CDC COVID-19 county-level map, Aug. 16, 2021. Linn County is outlined in gray.

Linn County received $5.3 million in funding from the federal ERAP. This money is intended to keep residents in their housing, help residents access new housing and support community landlords, according to the county.

County residents will no longer have access to the state program since its a duplication of benefits, said Ashley Balius, Linn County’s community outreach and assistance director.

“What we can provide through our program through our federal assistance is a little bit more flexible than what the state is able to do under ERA 1,” Balius told the Cedar Rapids City Council in late July.

The funding can be used on rent assistance, utility assistance or both. For rent assistance, it can be used on past due rent, up to three months of future rent and late fees due to missed rent payments.

For utility assistance, funding can be used for:

• Water, sewer and trash removal payments

• Gas or propane payments

• Electricity payments

• Internet payments (For assistance with internet payments, the individual must provide verification that someone in the home is working or attending school from home.)

Residents needing assistance with a pending eviction can get access to gap payment coverage while they are applying for the ERAP.

“What we quickly learned, however, is that without an immediate response to landlords, they’re not as inclined to stop the eviction,” Balius said. “They would like to have some sort of assurance that assistance is coming.”

The county is working with Waypoint and Iowa Legal Aid on a stop gap program providing two months of immediate assistance if this will prevent an eviction. Individuals must show up to their eviction hearing at the Linn County Courthouse and visit the Linn County Help Desk.

But residents should not wait for an eviction notice to seek help, the county said.

Balius said the documentation for the county’s ERAP program “reduces a pretty significant burden for some households” compared to the documentation required for the state program.

“The other really key difference I want to make sure I hit on is that there is some sort of financial impact since March of 2020, which is very different than what the state has to do, which is that there must be some sort of documented financial impact due directly or indirectly to COVID-19,” Balius said. “For us, it’s pretty simple. We all went through the August 2020 derecho, which absolutely financially impacted families, and so we fully intend to move forward with this with just as simple self-attestation.”

To be eligible for assistance from the ERAP, residents need to be able to provide documentation or self-certify the following information:

• Household income with no more than 80 percent of the annual median income

• Proof of financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in March of 2020. Those negatively impacted by the August 2020 derecho will meet this requirement.

• Proof the household is experiencing housing instability such as threat of pending or current eviction, or threat of or a current utility shut off

• Threat of homelessness

The most recent update from the Iowa Finance Authority lists the following income levels as 80 percent of the median income in Linn County.

80 percent of average annual income in Linn County by household size

1 person: $50,050

2 people: $57,200

3 people: $64,350

4 people: $71,500

5 people: $77,250

6 people: $82,950

7 people: $88,700

8 people: $94,900

Applications will be prioritized based on household income under 50 percent annual median income for the county, one or more household members have been unemployed for at least 90 days, pending eviction or pending/current utility shut off.

Rent payments will be made by HACAP directly to landlords or property managers. The funding must cover past-due rent payments dating back to March 13, 2020 before accepted applicants can receive additional rental assistance for up to three months of future payments.

To apply for the ERAP, residents will need a photo ID, receipt of unemployment benefits (if applicable), income documentation, housing instability documentation and current lease agreement. Examples of what documentation can be used can be found online.

Residents can apply for assistance and find more information on the county’s website. Anyone unable to access the online application or needing assistance completing the application should contact Waypoint at 319-289-7003 or email prevention@waypointservices.org.


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