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Des Moines Register
Editorial: Roses & thistles: Unlike Congress, Polk County steps up to help people losing income and housing during infectious disease pandemic
A rose to officials in Polk County for creating a program to help renters avoid eviction during an infectious disease pandemic and economic downturn. Business closures, job losses and the end of additional federal unemployment assistance lead to more evictions and increased homelessness.
Polk County quickly stepped up to try to break that cycle.
Staff from Iowa Legal Aid and the Polk County Housing Trust Fund set up outside the Polk County Justice Center and bring together tenants and landlords, sometimes minutes before eviction hearings. They provide legal assistance, facilitate negotiations about what is owed and write checks to cover rent, using part of the county’s share of federal CARES Act funding.
One family at a time, the program is keeping people in their homes and ensuring landlords get paid.
The stories of Iowans facing eviction “set you back on your heels,” said Eric Burmeister. He is officially the director of the housing trust fund and unofficially a local gem known for his dedication to affordable housing and helping people. He recently told an editorial writer about some of the Iowans he has met during his days at the justice center.
There was the “big, tough burly guy” who was mowing 40 lawns a week last summer. This summer he had only about 15 lawns because more people are working from home and doing their own yard work.
There was the grandmother who came in with her daughter and granddaughter. Burmeister told her the program could pay her back rent and bring the balance to zero.
“She literally put her head down on the table and sobbed uncontrollably for three minutes,” he said. “She was so overwhelmed by all of the crap going on in her life. She didn’t think this was going to be a good day when she got up that morning.”
One father brought his three children. He said until now he had always been able to provide for his family. He was embarrassed but grateful to receive the assistance.
Polk County understands what some of our representatives in Congress do not: Government is supposed to help the most vulnerable among us, particularly during a crisis.
A rose to the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority for a pilot project bringing electric buses to Iowa. DART, which serves 12 metro cities and Polk County, recently unveiled seven brand new battery-powered buses. As COVID-19 hammers public transportation in the short-term, DART deserves credit for thinking longer-term about the environment with a zero-emissions alternative to the current diesel-powered fleet.
Also, kudos to MidAmerican Energy and the Federal Transit Administration for providing grants to make this possible.
A rose to Fareway, the Boone-based grocery store chain, for planning a stand-alone Fareway Meat Market in Beaverdale. This is an investment in a neighborhood, and the planned design respects the way pedestrian-friendly neighborhood retail is supposed to look — with the building pulled to the edge of the sidewalks and parking in the back.
A rose to the many who ensured all registered voters in Iowa receive a form to request an absentee ballot for the Nov. 3 election. This includes county auditors, the Iowa Secretary of State, political campaigns and special interest groups. Iowans know you’ve been busy because we’ve all received numerous mailings.
Now the actual ballots are arriving in our mailboxes. A rose to voters who quickly fill them out and send them to county auditors. You can track your ballot online to ensure it was received. You can avoid exposing yourself and others to the novel coronavirus at the polls on Election Day. You can have a say in shaping the future of our state and country. Please do all that.
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