COVID-19 highlights the need for a strong social safety net. And even more, the need for policies, practices, and programs that eliminate social and economic disparities.
We are focused, short-term, on advocacy and action that will help to protect housing- and food-insecure residents of Johnson County. We'll be planning in coordination with local agencies for the weeks to come.
Long-term, this crisis reminds us of the critical importance of everyone having a safe, stable, and economically sustainable place to call home.
Below, please find a summary of housing news so far. We'll share more information as it becomes available. If you have specific questions about housing resources during this time, please contact Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shelter for People Who are Homeless
From Shelter House:
The entire community must take the most serious measures now to ensure this public health crisis is resolved. For Shelter House, that means we have increased our services to ensure the near hundred men, women, and children we shelter each night have a safe place to be during the day and evenings. It also means that we continue to ensure the hundreds of people we housed in the last year have access to the supports they need to retain their housing through this crisis and not return to emergency shelter. Our incredibly dedicated staff are doing what they can to help the most vulnerable in our community. We recognize that keeping our emergency shelter facilities operational in times of crisis is crucial to the health and well being of our entire community; we take that responsibility seriously, and will be doing our best. We need your continued support and engagement.
Please take a moment to read more about our COVID-19 response and support our mission, which will become even more critical in the weeks and months ahead here: https://shelterhouseiowa.salsalabs.org/3162020?
From MidAmerican Energy:
To support customers experiencing financial hardship or isolation as a result of the pandemic threat, MidAmerican has temporarily suspended all disconnections for non-payment. The company will work with customers who are impacted economically by COVID-19 by waiving deposits and fees for late payments and providing payment plans as needed. MidAmerican encourages any customer facing hardship to call us at 888-427-5632. We will make every effort to work with customers experiencing financial difficulties.
From Iowa Legal Aid (highlight added):
The Iowa Supreme Court issued an order on March 17, 2020, that allows courts to continue most eviction hearings until May 4, 2020, if the judge chooses to do that. Judges may also choose to have hearings by telephone instead. Right now, the following counties across Iowa have postponed most eviction hearings for at least one month or more, unless the eviction is brought because the tenant is alleged to be a clear and present danger.
- Black Hawk
- Buena Vista
- Palo Alto
If you live in a county not on this list, you can file a motion to continue in your case. We are currently advising that people raise the heightened risk of harm if they are evicted, not only to themselves but to the community at large, and reference paragraph 14 of the March 17 2020 Supervisory Order of the Iowa Supreme Court.
It is important to remember that the eviction moratorium does not mean that you do not have to pay rent, or that your landlords cannot file an eviction. It just means that the courts have "hit the pause button" and you cannot be removed from your home for a month or more, depending on the county, even if an eviction is filed. After the moratorium is over, evictions that were already filed will continue as before.
We are somewhat concerned that landlords will try to force tenants to leave without a court order, through lock-outs, utilty shut-offs, or even physical force. This is called "self-help eviction," and it is illegal in Iowa. Tenants who are subject to illegal self-help eviction can get an "injunction" from the court, ordering the landlord to stop trying to remove them without a court order. In these cases, a tenant may also be able to obtain money damages, costs, and attorney fees.
From Iowa Legal Aid:
Some federal agencies have stopped foreclosures for certain federally connected mortgages at this time, while other have not. Here is a run-down of which agencies have issued some kind of relief:
- FHA. HUD has issued a 60 day moratorium for foreclosures of FHA mortgages, and has directed servicers to use special programs to work with borrowers affected by the COVID 19 crisis. You can tell whether a loan is guaranteed by FHA by looking at the mortgage document - it will say in several places that it is covered by FHA.
- Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac. Loans guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are also subject to a 60 day foreclosure moratorium. You can see if your loan is guaranteed by either of these by using an online lookup tool.
- VA loans. The VA is not stopping foreclosures at this time, but encourages servicers to use existing programs to help borrowers in need.
- USDA Direct loans. At this time, USDA single family direct loans (i.e. people who pay their mortgage bill to USDA) are subject to a 60 day foreclosure moratorium (see FAQ section at link).
- USDA guaranteed loans. There is no guidance currently issued about USDA RHS guaranteed loans (i.e. USDA guarantees the loan, but you pay your mortgage bill to the bank).
Again, like evictions, foreclosure moratoriums do not alone free you from the requirement to pay your mortgage payment - it only stops the foreclosure for a short period of time. You need to work out arrangements with your mortgage servicer. Many federally connected programs are required to work with borrowers generally, so you should ask about what programs they have available to help you postpone or reduce your payment during this time.
From the Iowa International Center:
As with many organizations, the Iowa International Center continues to monitor the federal and state government's response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). During this unprecedented time, we understand how challenging it may be for those providing housing services to keep tenants abreast of developments, closures, and changes needed to keep our communities functioning and safe for all.
We would like to make sure that you're aware that Iowa International Center's Housing Hotline is still available as a free, 24/7 resource to provide language interpretation. You can find additional information about this resource, including who can use the hotline, how to use the service and which languages are provided at https://iowainternationalcenter.org/local-resources/housing-interpretation/
From Iowa Legal Aid:
In addition to people who normally qualify for unemployment, Iowa has started a new program for people who are unemployed due to the COVID 19 virus. This program will have relaxed requirements for eligibility. In addition, given the volume of new applications, it is very likely that employer appeals of unemployment will be delayed for a significant period of time.
Unfortunately, at this time, it appears that people who owe prior overpayments of unemployment insurance will have a 50% to 100% reduction in benefits to pay back those overpayments. Additionally, you may have received a letter in fall 2019 that your federal tax refund will be offset to pay an overpayment -- perhaps even a very old overpayment -- that is alleged to be fraud. If this happens, you may have appeal rights with Iowa Workforce Development