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After eviction moratorium expires, dozens heard in Scott County eviction court
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After eviction moratorium expires, dozens heard in Scott County eviction court

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Alicia White sits in front of her packed belongings inside of her apartment, at Crestwood Apartments.

Katelyn Gallagher breathed a sigh of relief leaving her eviction hearing Tuesday at the Scott County Courthouse. 

She huddled in the front row of the courtroom with a legal-aid attorney and a representative of the landlord who filed an eviction notice on her Davenport apartment. 

They agreed to allow the 35-year-old Gallagher to reapply for financial assistance from Iowa Legal Aid to clear up her $2,000 in backed up rent payments. When she first applied for some of the $195 million allocated to Iowa for rent aid by Congress, she didn't know the landlord's email address, and her application stalled without the other half sent to the landlord and filled out.

Her eviction hearing was continued until next week, and she said in the meantime she will reapply for the aid. If approved, she could get caught up. She lost her job at a manufacturing warehouse in May but picked up a part-time job at a restaurant recently.

Gallagher's story was echoed many times before eviction hearings ended at 3 p.m., after the nationwide ban on evictions established during the COVID-19 pandemic expired Saturday.

An effort to help people facing eviction

Carrie O'Connor and her three-attorney, one-paralegal crew from Iowa Legal Aid were roadies for a traveling show Tuesday afternoon as they lugged brand-new fold-out chairs and still-in-the-wrapping card tables inside the polished-stone main hall of the Scott County Courthouse.

The goal was to represent people like Gallagher and other families facing eviction after the federal moratorium on all evictions originally ended Saturday. O'Connor said they expected to handle as many as 63 eviction hearings.

Not long after Tuesday's eviction hearings ended came news the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a fresh stop on certain evictions Tuesday, saying that evicting people could be detrimental to public health and would interfere with efforts to slow the pandemic.

The new ban applies to areas of the country with high or substantial transmission of COVID-19 and will last until Oct. 3, according to the announcement. The CDC classified Scott County an area of high transmission Monday.

But O'Connor and her crew didn't know the CDC's plans when it set up just after noon Tuesday.

"We are here to help people who need defense in their eviction hearing," O'Connor said. "And we are here to help people find the financial help to prevent evictions and get landlords paid at least some of the unpaid rent."

In Scott County, housing advocates pooled $115,000 for renters facing eviction to pay landlords for the next month's rent, said Cecelia Bailey, the executive director of the Quad Cities Open Network. Local groups hope to continue to raise funds to divert evictions, Bailey said. 

The federal ban protected many Scott County residents after Iowa’s ban on evictions expired in May 2020 — part of Gov. Kim Reynolds push-back against COVID-19 restrictions.

Iowa did establish a rent and utility assistance program with $195 million in federal money. That aid can help with up to 12 months of late rent and utility bills for renters who earn up to 80% of their area’s median income. Iowans also have to show they either lost their job or experienced another significant financial hardship caused by the pandemic.

Pandemic compounded the problem of eviction

Iowa Legal Aid attorney Tim Shemmel said the pandemic "is absolutely a huge part of the problem" and outlined just how the dominoes fell as the pandemic wore on.

"The number of people facing eviction just kept growing," Shemmel said. "People lost jobs, fortunately didn't lose their homes right away. Now the moratorium ends, and there is a glut of people facing eviction.

"We have never, ever, had 60 eviction cases on a Tuesday in this courthouse. Now, let's say half are evicted. That's 30 people going out into to a very crowded housing market. And on top of that, they don't have the money to even pay for a move."

Shemmel described a grim bottom line for those facing eviction.

"For many of these people, it's now simply a matter of taking the things most important to them and leaving the rest behind," he said.

The eviction help desk set up by Iowa Legal Aid and Community Action of Eastern Iowa stayed busy Tuesday afternoon, the only day during the week evictions are heard in Scott County. 

Inside the court was just as busy. Two magistrates heard a rapid succession of landlords and tenants, many who didn't show to the hearing, and several who appeared with help from Iowa Legal Aid.

Judicial Specialist Holly Crabb, who directed traffic inside magistrate court, said 60 evictions cases were originally scheduled for Tuesday. In some, tenants failed to appear. In other cases the landlord did not show up.

As in Gallagher's case, three Iowa Legal Aid attorneys were in and out of the courtroom, huddling with landlords set on eviction to let them know local Scott County housing advocates had a pool of money to give stop-gap payments to landlords to allow tenants time to apply for state rental assistance that could clear a backlog of rent. Some landlords agreed, others didn't.

Attorneys couldn't present the eviction moratorium documentation, which could be sent to landlords if the renter met certain conditions to prevent being removed from their home. 

The other side of the eviction crisis

When Bonnie and John Wright walked into the Scott County Courthouse and headed for Tuesday's eviction hearings they paused to read the simple black letters on white cardboard that alerted people to Iowa Legal Aid's services for tenants.

"Too bad they don't help landlords," Bonnie muttered.

Less than 20 minutes later the couple — who rents the home they own for $850 a month — walked out with an eviction notice.

"The people who lived in our house have left anyway — they just disappeared," Bonnie said. "The last time we got any rent was in March. So we've been without, really, our main income for months."

The Wrights live on Social Security checks and the rent they receive for the house rental.

"Renters have an awful lot of rights. I understand, maybe, looking at out-of-town landlords and being mad at them sometimes," Bonnie said. "But we live in the same neighborhood where we rent out that house. We rely on that money."

Brenda Webster echoed the Wrights. As the owner of Webster Properties, she manages a total of 10 single-family homes — including three in Davenport.

"We have lost thousands of dollars in income since the start of the pandemic," Webster said. "And we have not asked for or received a dime of any government help.

"And there is one other thing — we have not received a dime from any of the tenants who did get assistance. It's been a very hard time to be a landlord, too."

Hope after the hearings end

Gallagher said she felt for her landlord, and appreciated how gracious the company was to let her reapply for aid. Her father had been a landlord, she said, so she knew they had payments to make too.

After the hearings in the court and listening to attorneys, Gallagher paused and said having her hearing continued gave her hope.

"If I lose my home," she said, "I lose my chance to get my kids back in my home."

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Bettendorf, East Moline, and Silvis Reporter

Sarah is Bettendorf, East Moline, and Silvis reporter for the Quad City Times covering local government and news in the those areas. She graduated from the University of Iowa this spring and was the editor of the student-run newspaper The Daily Iowan.

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