What to do if you can’t pay the rent: Des Moines area resources

If you know you won’t be able to pay your rent on time, it’s best to take action before rent is due. Here is what you should do if you can’t pay the rent, along with resources available in the Des Moines area.

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If you can’t pay rent

Talk to your landlord.

If rent is past due, your landlord has the right to take legal action to have you evicted. If this happens, you will receive a 3-day notice. At the end of that three days, if you have not paid rent, the landlord can proceed with the eviction.

Tell your landlord as soon as you know you won’t be able to pay your rent on time. Explain the situation. If you paid on time in the past, your landlord might be more willing to work with you. See if you can make payments or otherwise work out an arrangement for repayment as soon as possible.

Look at your budget.

Take a look at your expenses and figure out where you can cut back. Maybe you can slash the grocery budget or save on gas by taking the bus for a while. Or maybe you can get an additional part-time job until you get back on your feet.

It might be cheaper for you to find a way to pay the rent than to move, even if you have to be super frugal and work extra for a while. On the other hand, if you regularly struggle to pay the rent, you might need to find a more affordable place to live. (But you still don’t want an eviction on your record!)

Of course, don’t be afraid to contact local programs that might be able to provide you and your family with emergency assistance.

Besides scaling back on the everyday expenses, you can look for ways to temporarily cut other bills, such as credit card and student loan payments:

  • Credit cards. Some cards offer hardship programs for those facing difficult life circumstances. However, these programs can impact your interest rates, credit access, and credit score – each credit card is different. It’s important to understand the terms of the plan.

If you need help with rent

If you’ve tried all other avenues and still cannot access enough money to pay your rent, you can apply for assistance through community services. In the Des Moines area, Polk County General Assistance is the best place to start (below).

1. Gather your paperwork and documentation

Most programs require you to complete an application to see if you’re eligible for help with your rent (or security deposit). You will also provide paperwork to demonstrate your need and do an in-person interview. To prepare for the applications and appointments, gather all your information together in a folder or large zip-lock bag ahead of time.

Documentation you may need:

  • Photo ID
  • Social Security Card
  • Social Security numbers for all members of your household
  • Proof of income (for the last 30 days). Pay stubs work the best.
  • Proof of expenses (for the last 30 days). Bills and receipts work well.
  • Proof of address (a piece of mail addressed to you can work in most circumstances)
  • Bank statements are helpful

Though you may need additional information, this list is a great place to start.

2. Fill out an application for Polk County General Assistance (or Veteran’s Affairs, if you’re a veteran)

Many financial assistance programs in the area require that you go to Polk County General Assistance first.

The first thing you should do is fill out an application with General Assistance and see if you meet the requirements. If you have difficulty completing the form or need additional help, call and explain your situation.

Polk County General Assistance 515-286-2088
2309 Euclid Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50310
Hours: Monday – Friday 7:30 AM – 4:30 PM

Fill out an online application (or print one and take it in). Or you can call Toni Hoyt at 515-286-3750 for a phone interview (email Toni.Hoyt@polkcountyiowa.gov). If you go in for an interview, you must have a valid ID, social security card and documentation of your last 30 days income and expenses. The landlord might need to provide information too.

If you’re a veteran, you must go through Veteran’s Affairs. You can apply for help through:
Primary Health Care (515) 248-1850
1200 University Ave. #110A (entrance at the west side of the building)
Des Moines, Iowa 50314

3. Call 211

211 is a free dialing code to call and ask where to get help. It’s set up as a service to help anyone who needs assistance connecting with the right community organizations and agencies that can help them. (All information is confidential.)

4. Contact other agencies that can provide assistance

As mentioned before, many agencies require that you apply to Polk County General Assistance first. If you’ve already done this, you can start looking for additional assistance.

Here is a list of resources in the Des Moines area:

Caring Hands 515-967-4533
201 9th St NE
Altoona IA 50009
* Call for information on rent assistance.

Creative Visions 515-244-4003
1343 13th St
Des Moines, IA 50314
* The Family Emergency Assistance program will provide rent assistance to eligible families. Must go through General Assistance first.

Cross Ministries (515) 279-9998
3226 University Ave.
Des Moines, Iowa 50311
* Program offers rent and deposit assistance on a first come, first serve basis (they do not take appointments). Support is limited to one time in a 12 month period.

Located at Cottage Grove Avenue Presbyterian Church
1050 – 24th Street
Des Moines, Iowa 50316
Open Tues-Friday, hours vary, call (515) 279-9998 for hours.

  • For rent assistance:
    You must have filled out the Polk County General Assistance Application, have 30 days of paperwork showing income and expenses, a statement from the landlord with the amount due, photo id for the head of household and social security numbers for all household members.
  • For deposit assistance:
    Statement from the landlord saying how much is due
    Paperwork showing income and receipts for how you spent your income in the last 30 days
    Photo id for head of household and social security numbers for all household members

Department of Human Services Family Investment Program (FIP) 515-286-3555
River Place office – 2309 Euclid Ave, Des Moines IA
Carpenter office – 1900 Carpenter, Des Moines, IA
* Cash assistance provided for those who qualify and follow guidelines

This program has specific rules and participants must take part in the Promise Jobs program to receive assistance. Applications are typically processed within 30 days. You must be resident of Polk County and meet income and other guidelines

Fill out Part A and Part C of this application. You may be asked to go in for an interview and provide identification, including photo id and social security card (or other relevant documentation), proof of income, and other resources you have (such as bank accounts, stocks, bonds).

IMPACT Community Action Partnership 515-274-1334
Drake Neighborhood Resource Center – 3226 University Ave, Des Moines, IA
Polk County Resource Center – 2701 S.E. Convenience Blvd, Suite 2, Ankeny, IA
*Emergency energy and food assistance and housing assistance for seniors. IMPACT’s resource centers can help connect you with other resources you may need.

Proteus, Inc. 515-271-5306
1221 Center Street, Suite 16
Des Moines, Iowa 50309
* Provides migrant farm workers with rental assistance and finding affordable housing.

Salvation Army 515-282-3422
1326-1330 Sixth Avenue,
Des Moines, Iowa 50314
* Mortgage, rent, and deposit assistance

Must have an appointment. Appointments for the week are made only by telephone starting at 8:30 am on Mondays. Contact staff directly (do not leave a voicemail).

You must have the following information:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Address and phone number
  • Last 4 digits of Social Security number
  • Names of others in the household
  • Monthly income and monthly SNAP amount
  • House or rent payment
  • What utilities you pay
  • A piece of recent, non-personal mail (utility bill) with your current home address

St. Mary’s Family Center 515-262-7800
1815 Hubbell Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50316
* Limited financial aid for rent

Financial aid applications are Monday and Thursday only (by appointment only). Limited appointments are available. Sign up at 10:00 am.

St. Vincent de Paul 833-846-6437
1426 6th Ave
Des Moines, IA 50314
Mon-Sat 9:00am-3:30pm
* Rent assistance under $700. Based on the interview, need, and funding availability.

Call 833-846-6437 for an appointment. Appointments are scheduled by telephone each Wednesday from 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. Phone calls are returned in the order they are received until available appointment times are full for the week.

The applicant’s name must be on the lease, and they must be applying for the current month’s rent to be eligible for rent assistance. (The program does not pay for first month’s rent or deposits.)

St. Benedict Mission 515-244-2986
1224 Martin Luther King
Des Moines, Iowa 50314
* Provides rent and utility assistance. Does not help with rental deposit.
(Wednesday: 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm)

West Des Moines Community Services 515-222-3660
139 6th Street
West Des Moines, IA 50265
* Provides emergency financial assistance (including rent assistance) for West Des Moines households only.

Program outreach hours: Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 8 am to 3 pm, and Wednesday from 8 am to noon. Walk-ins welcome.

Modest Needs
A national program dedicated to helping those who can’t find assistance elsewhere. They provide rent and other financial aid to those who qualify, and payment is always made directly to the vendor (in this case, landlord or property manager). There is no fee to apply.

To apply, complete the online grant application.

Other related resources

Public housing
You can apply for public and section 8 housing through the Des Moines Municipal Housing Agency (DMMHA). There is typically a waitlist for housing.

Guide to senior housing and financial assistance
This guide covers the cost of assisted living and senior housing in the Des Moines area, with a list of public benefit programs and financial assistance available.

Iowa Legal Aid 515-243-1193
1111 9th St #230
Des Moines, Iowa 50314
* Attorneys assist with legal housing issues, including eviction. You can also get help in applying for public housing, free legal aid to solve discrimination, and other support.

A note on payday loans

When you’ve fallen on hard times, you can feel desperate to get through the month. But before you turn to payday loans, it’s better to explore all other options (call 211!). If you do consider a payday loan, make sure you understand the terms of the loan and have a solid plan to pay it off immediately.

The average payday loan borrower is in debt for five months of the year, spending an average of $520 in fees to repeatedly borrow $375.” – Pew Trusts

Between the fees and the interest rates on payday loans, you can end up owing more money than you can afford. This leads to a vicious cycle of needing to take out one loan to pay another, and it’s an endless spiral that is hard to stop.

At Coluzzi Real Estate, we care about our community. We go the extra mile to provide you and your family with the information you need.

photo credit: pixabay


About the Author:

Amanda has lived in the Des Moines area since 1999, where she and her husband have bought and sold a handful of homes over the years, including a recent flip. Amanda enjoys writing, obsesses about personal finance and is fond of looking at houses. She loves sharing useful tips and info to make life easier for anyone wanting to buy or sell a home. In her spare time, Amanda cherishes time with her family, volunteers with IHYC, gardens, hikes, and practices TaeKwonDo. You can read more of her writing at whywemoney.com