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Local governments are administering emergency rental assistance programs more efficiently than the state

Published: Sep. 10, 2021 at 5:30 AM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Polk County is more efficient than the state when it comes to getting rental assistance to those who need it. Linn County is close to earning the same honor, even though its program has only existed for about three weeks.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program was created through the federal government. But, the state, Linn and Polk Counties administer their own programs to help people pay their rent and utilities.

Iowa, like many other states, has had trouble getting that money out the door. About 8% of the federal money it’s received in the first round has been distributed. Polk County has spent 100% of its first-round allocation.

Ashley Balius, who is overseeing the rental assistance program for Linn County, said Linn County originally didn’t have the infrastructure to set up a program. She said the county accepted money in the second round of funding from the U.S. Treasury Department because it saw a need.

“Really, we just continued to see so much need within Linn County that we felt like it was really important for us to get into ERA2 and start allocating it and working with local providers,” she said.

Ashley Jared, who is a spokesperson for the Iowa Finance Authority, said in an email statement the pool of eligible applicants from the state program has also significantly decreased because Polk and Linn County stated their own programs.

She also said the state received a large number of applications, and it had to make adjustments to the software being used to clear an initial backlog.

“The state program provides rent and utility assistance to eligible renters for past due amounts only and does not award future assistance,” Jared wrote.

She also said in an email statement the state is using stricter guidelines, partially because of restrictions on the money from the federal government. Those rules require at least 90% of awarded funds be used for direct financial assistance, including rent, rental arrears, utilities and home energy costs, utilities and home energy costs arrears, and other expenses related to housing. The first round of payments expires on September 30, 2022. The second round of payments expires in 2025, according to the United States Department of Treasury.

The state also said it’s had trouble matching applications from Landlords. Jane Peterman, who is the Director of Housing Services at Waypoint, said landlords were confused about how to even apply for the help.

“We heard a lot of complaints from landlords, just not understanding why the application was still pending, not understanding the documents they had to turn in to complete the application,” she said. “We had many landlords saying they were pending for months.”

Peterman said this led to landlords giving up on the program.

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