Many University of Iowa student renters remain ineligible for Iowa eviction aid

Many student renters are not eligible for Iowa eviction aid, but there are still options in the community available for students facing eviction.


Raquele Decker

Iowa Student Legal Services office is seen located on the ground floor of the IMU on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020.

Ailis McCardle, News Reporter

With a Dec. 31 expiration date for a CDC-mandated eviction moratorium approaching, students looking for housing assistance may not be eligible for several rent assistance programs in the Hawkeye State.

The COVID 19 Iowa Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Program — which received $38 million in CARES Act funding — excludes households where there is not at least one member who is not a student.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium — which halted evictions of covered persons for nonpayment of rent from Sept. 4 to Dec. 31 — has qualifications determining a “covered person,” which exclude many UI students.

According to the CDC, applicants cannot be a dependent, and they must have qualified to non-file federal taxes in 2019 or must have received a COVID-19 stimulus check, which college students did not qualify for if they were claimed as a dependent.

Data released by global-advisory firm Stout Risius Ross found that 9.9 percent of Iowa renter households were behind on their rent payments at the end of November. Though there’s scant data on how many UI students may be facing housing insecurity, few eviction cases cross the desk of UI Student Legal Services, a free legal resource for University of Iowa students.

Students could apply for funding through the CARES Act Emergency Grant in spring 2020, but applications for UI students closed at the end of May because of high volume, according to the UI.

However, students in danger of losing their housing still have options. The UI and City of Iowa City have come together to create a safety net for low-income students who are struggling to pay rent.

The UI does not have solid data available regarding how many UI students are actively homeless or facing immediate housing emergencies, UI Director of Student Care and Assistance Nikki Hodous wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan.

This data is spread across various university offices, including Financial Aid, Admissions, and Institutional Research and Assessment, she wrote.

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“We don’t specifically track this information but can tell you of the 210 emergency fund applications we have received this semester, approximately 75 of them listed concerns paying for rent,” Hodous wrote.

Housed in the UI Dean of Students Office, Student Care and Assistance offers emergency aid to students experiencing a “financial emergency or catastrophic event” through the Dean of Students Emergency Fund.

“We have typically been able to fund requests for students from $350 to $500,” Houdous wrote in the email. “In years prior, we typically limited this to one time per academic year, but since the impact of the pandemic, have been more flexible with this.”

The Dean of Students Emergency Fund currently contains $515,000. Hodous wrote that the fund was helped substantially through a voluntary salary reduction from UI President Bruce Harreld and donations from Undergraduate and Graduate and Professional Student Governments and the UI Center of Advancement.

Hodous wrote that, if the Dean of Students Office is unable to assist a student, they can be referred to Student Legal Services or community organizations such as CommUnity crisis center.

CommUnity Communications Director Nicole Kilmer said the group can provide options for UI students facing housing insecurity.

“We have [our] Housing and Utility Sign Up, our security deposit program and the CDBG-CV [Community Development Block Grant] if they have lost income due to COVID-19,” Kilmer said. “Otherwise, Shelter House has funds, as well.”

Kilmer said the Community Development Block Grant requires that those interested first apply for the state-assistance program. If a student does not qualify for state assistance, they can contact CommUnity and request to apply for Iowa City’s Community Development Block Grant funds for eviction and foreclosure prevention, she said.

She added that CommUnity also has a Basic Needs Program, funded by private donations, which will cover the last $100 of a past due rent or utility bill.

Student Legal Services provides legal guidance for students who may be facing eviction.

In an email to the DI, Student Legal Services Director Amanda L. Elkins said eviction litigation appointments are rare. The office, which offers free legal services to UI students, sees about five eviction cases a year.

“Most of the time we are meeting with students before eviction proceedings have started and work with them in order to avoid eviction,” Elkins wrote. “I don’t believe we’ve seen students during the COVID-19 pandemic who were facing eviction court proceedings, but we did speak to students who received pre-filing notices during the State eviction moratorium in the spring. To our knowledge, those matters did not end up in court.”

She added that most students do not live in properties that were covered under the federal CARES Act. The act placed a 120-day eviction moratorium for those who lived in federal housing assistance programs or lived in a property with a federally backed mortgage. The moratorium ended July 24.

The DI reached out to several Iowa City rental agencies which rent to students — Westwinds, Apartments in Iowa City, and Apartments At Iowa. All declined to comment regarding recent evictions.