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211 Iowa reports high volume of rental assistance inquiries

Nearly 20,000 people have called the hotline seeking help with housing issues over the past year.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa families in need can dial 211 to access all sorts of local resources, ranging from legal help to job hunting assistance. Over the last year, the most common request has been for help with housing. 

And the agencies giving that help have been struggling to keep up.

"We had to close our emergency rental assistance program in December, and up until the moment it closed, we were getting anywhere between 40 and 80 applications a day," said Anne Bacon, CEO of IMPACT Community Action Partnership, which provides rental assistance to Iowans.

Of the more than 64,000 calls to 211 made during the last 365 days, just shy of 20,000 were for housing. Over 8,600 were for rental assistance specifically

Even before IMPACT had to temporarily close their applications for rental aid, the need for help was bigger than they could provide.

"We anticipated about 12,000 families in Polk County probably qualify for rent assistance, but there's less than 4000 vouchers available for those families," Bacon said.

In a survey of 357 families using their rental assistance program, IMPACT said they found that 78% of families were reporting struggles to pay all of their household bills. Over half said that rental assistance prevented them from being evicted or becoming homeless.

"This is an ongoing issue around the availability of housing that's affordable to families, and the availability of living wage jobs that covers the cost of the essential needs," Bacon said.

One reason for those long-term issues is that even as the economy has started to recover from the effects of COVID-19, many people who went into debt or had other economic troubles during the pandemic ended up in a pretty deep hole. 

More than 93% of those receiving rental assistance from IMPACT were able to consistently pay their rent before the pandemic.

So, is there any hope on the horizon? IMPACT told Local 5 that they're hoping to have applications for rental aid reopen sometime in spring 2023. 

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