Des Moines, Iowa — A number of Iowa civil rights and domestic violence and sexual assault survivor organizations are urging Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Utilities Board to extend statewide moratoriums against evictions and utility shut-offs and to commit to preventing mass evictions after the moratoriums end.
Gov. Reynolds has proclaimed a moratorium on such evictions and shut-offs, but that moratorium is set to expire May 27.
“We are deeply appreciative of the Governor’s and Iowa Utilities Board’s actions to protect Iowans from evictions and utility shut-offs through May 27. So many Iowans are struggling right now. Unfortunately, we know that the public health and economic crisis is not going to be resolved by May 27,” said ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen.
As a result, the ACLU and 22 other groups today are sending a letter detailing specific actions the state must take to prevent mass evictions of Iowans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The crisis has already resulted in widespread and devastating economic consequences across Iowa, as unemployment claims continue to climb and small businesses and other industries struggle. In the face of staggering income drops, many Iowa renters face the imminent threat of losing their homes or access to utility services due to their inability to pay.
About one-third of all Iowa households are rentals. But rent is now more difficult for many to pay as the state sees record increases in unemployment.
Black Iowans, notably Black women, are especially hard-hit. Between 2012 and 2016, Black renters in Iowa were on average 4.8 times more likely than white renters to have evictions filed against them. Additionally, Black women renters were 5.5 times more likely to have evictions filed against them than white renters.*
Utility shut-offs also disproportionately hurt communities of color. A 2017 NAACP report found that nationally Black households experience utility disconnections at a higher rate than financially similar households.*
Survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and gender-based violence are also disproportionately affected. That's because these survivors who are in the process of rebuilding their lives don't have the financial resources to weather job loss and the economic challenges of the COVID-19 crisis. Two such survivors' stories are outlined in the letter.
To minimize the multi-faceted harms of the COVID-19 crisis, the groups are calling for specific actions to prevent mass evictions in the midst of the pandemic, specifically:
- Extend the evictions moratorium beyond May 27, when it is currently set to expire
- Prohibit the collection of late fees and retaliation against tenants who assert their rights under the moratorium
- Extend the prohibition of utility shut-offs and require restoration of previously disconnected services
- Continue to prevent mass evictions during and after the pandemic
- Prevent "blacklisting" of tenants after the moratorium ends
The effort is part of a nationwide, concerted ACLU effort to reach out to government leaders to prevent mass evictions of people from their homes and utility shut-offs.
“As millions of people lose their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, renters are faced with the added threat of being put out of their homes or cut off from access to utilities during a global crisis,” said Sandra Park, senior attorney at the ACLU. “Evictions and utility shut-offs will disproportionately harm communities of color, and particularly, women of color. All residents — regardless of their circumstances or background — should have access to safe and stable housing throughout the course of this ongoing public health crisis.”
The ACLU has worked over the years to address unfair eviction screening policies, which disproportionately undermine housing opportunities for women of color and will present a barrier to safe housing opportunities if mass evictions take place.
The letter to Gov. Reynolds and the Iowa Utility Board can be found here.
Groups signing the letter are:
- ACLU of Iowa Foundation
- Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault
- Friends of the Family, Waterloo
- Latinas Unidas para un Nuevo Amanecer (LUNA), Des Moines
- Assault Care Center Extending Shelter and Support (ACCESS), Ames
- Domestic Abuse Resource Center, Helping Services for Youth & Families, Postville
- Domestic Violence Intervention Program, Iowa City
- Welcoming Migrants Committee, Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, Des Moines
- Domestic Violence Program, Waypoint, Cedar Rapids
- Crisis Intervention Service, Mason City
- Nisaa African Family Services, Des Moines
- Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa
- Iowa Coalition for Collective Change
- Survivor Services, Family Resources, Davenport
- Domestic Violence Services, Children and Families of Iowa
- Crisis Intervention Services, Oskaloosa
- League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Iowa
- Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- Crisis Intervention & Advocacy Center, Adel
- U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), Des Moines
- Family Crisis Center, Ottumwa
- Regret No Opportunities
- Iowa-Nebraska NAACP State Area Conference of Branches
*See the letter for sources and footnotes, and further details.