Rental assistance demand remains high. One Iowa county ran out of its allocation

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By Kassidy Arena, Iowa Public Radio

The second round of the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) allocated $5.3 million to Linn County in August. After about four months, the county has used up all of it and closed any new applications.

Ashley Balius, the director of community outreach and assistance for Linn County Community Services, said since before the program started, the county knew there would be a high need.

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“We knew because of both the negative economic impacts left from the derecho, and then the lingering ones that we still see because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew that there was going to be quite a bit of demand. However, it still exceeded my expectations,” she said.

Although the application portal is closed for Linn County-specific rental assistance, not all households have received their assistance yet. Once all of it is allocated, Balius said about 1,500 households will have received funding. The majority of those households were identified as “extremely low income,” which the Department of Housing and Urban Development defines as earning 30 percent of the median family income in a specific area.

On average, each household was allocated $3,339. Only about 10 percent of the county’s funding went toward utility assistance.

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Renters in Linn County who are still in need of assistance and meet the eligibility requirements can apply through WayPoint Services or apply to the state-run program directed by the Iowa Finance Authority starting Jan. 3 at 12 p.m.

The state’s program is still using funding from ERA1 and has yet to distribute any funds from ERA2.

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The biggest difference between the two versions of ERAP, according to Balius, is that applicants may find it easier to apply for ERA2 funds. As an example, Balius said ERA1 required applicants to prove financial hardship as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For ERA2, that’s not quite the case.

“So that was one one of the key differences between ERA1 and ERA2 that made it a little bit easier to administer and also easier just to process applications to get funding on the ground quickly,” Balius said.

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The state was allocated $195 million dollars through ERA1. According to Iowa Finance Authority spokesperson Ashley Jared, it has paid $28 million of that so far in rent and utilities. So there is still funding available through ERA1.

“Funds are still available and we encourage Iowans, now including Linn County residents, beginning Monday to apply for assistance at iowahousingrecovery.com if they are in need of help with past due rent and utility payments,” she said in an email.

ERA2 granted $149 million to the state, but the Iowa Finance Authority has not yet developed a program for distribution. Jared said it’s likely ERA2 funds will begin distribution before ERA1 funds are exhausted.

Polk County and the city of Des Moines rental assistance is run through IMPACT Community Action Partnership, which is also still distributing funds.

IMPACT Chief Executive Officer Anne Bacon said demand has remained steady and they have actually expended all original allocations. She said because of that, Polk County worked with the state and its treasury to secure an additional $30 million in assistance. The county then allocated $10 million to IMPACT to keep the program afloat until it receives funding from the treasurer’s office.

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