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COVID Increases Eviction Workload for Iowa Legal Aid

Even before the pandemic, Iowa had a housing crisis, but COVID-19 has just made it worse. That's according to Ericka Petersen, Assistant Litigation Director for Iowa Legal Aid.

She says before the pandemic, evictions made up 25 per cent of their workload, and now they account for 50 per cent.

"Evictions in the state of Iowa were already going up prior to this pandemic so between 2016 and 2019, statewide, they rose 20 per cent and in some counties it was as high as 51 per cent."

And the virus can be blamed for what she calls a "massive" increase in calls to Iowa Legal Aid about eviction, calls are up 140 per cent during the past year.

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Petersen says Iowa Legal Aid has set up help desks in courthouses in the five most populous counties, including Scott County, and can represent people during court hearings.

"Because in Iowa we run on an extremely short timeline - evictions happen much quicker than they do in a lot of other places and so for that reason the rules are applied very strictly. Tenants may have defenses that they may not realize they have that a lawyer can help them understand."

During the moratorium on evictions in Iowa that ended in August, Scott County handled about 30 cases per week. That's since increased to 50.

Petersen also says the housing crisis in Iowa has had a greater impact on people of color. Iowa Legal Aid has received 26,000 calls about evictions since 2015 - 35 per cent have been from people of color, but it's 53 per cent in Scott County.