Wells Fargo & Co. is giving a $650,000 grant to help prevent evictions in Iowa, the company announced Thursday.
The grant is the largest the company is making to any single eviction prevention program nationally. It will help fund Iowa Legal Aid’s Eviction Diversion Project, which provides legal services and rent assistance for Iowans who face losing their homes.
The project started in response to a rise in evictions following job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic in Polk County. It has since expanded to Black Hawk, Johnson, Linn, Scott and Pottawattamie counties, successfully preventing 90% of evictions in the cases Iowa Legal Aid has taken on, said Nick Smithberg, the agency’s executive director.
More:Polk County commits COVID-19 relief money to adding 600 affordable housing units
Speaking at the Polk County Housing Trust Fund’s affordable housing week symposium, where the grant announcement was made, Smithberg called the project “monumentally effective” because it brings landlords and tenants together to prevent eviction. But it also is “very, very expensive,” he said. Iowa Legal Aid pays for lawyers in each of the counties it serves, plus back rent for tenants.
“The greater good for the vast majority of both the landlords and the tenants, is it’s been a situation where landlords have been paid and tenants have been housed,” said Eric Burmeister, executive director of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, which started The Justice Center Project with Iowa Legal Aid and other nonprofit organizations.
Polk County will soon have spent $85 million in federal emergency rental assistance on eviction prevention, said Anne Bacon, CEO of IMPACT Community Action Partnership.
More:Iowa to use $21.6 million in federal COVID-19 aid to house up to 700 homeless families
The project’s success rate is one of the reasons why Wells Fargo chose it to receive the funding, Micah Kiel, the company’s vice president of community relations and philanthropy in Des Moines.
“We believe that this can be a potential systemic change in our state and that’s why we’re investing at this level,” he said.
He praised the work of Iowa Legal Aid, but pointed to a need not just for preventing Iowans from becoming homeless, but to address disparities in who gets evicted. Of the 12,928 eviction notices filed in the six counties in Iowa last year, 41% were against people of color and 66% were against women. In addition, 30% were people who are disabled. That’s disproportionate to those groups’ share of the population in Iowa, where 16% are people of color, 50% are women and 8% are disabled.
“We have a problem with disparate impact here in Iowa when it comes to evictions,” Kiel said.
Last year, Wells Fargo announced an $11 million grant to 19 national legal-assistance organizations and counseling agencies that work to help keep people housed.
Thursday’s symposium featured as keynote speaker Shane Phillips, author of “The Affordable City: Strategies for Putting Housing Within Reach (and Keeping it There)” and manager of the Lewis Center Housing Initiative at the University of California at Los Angeles.