MASON CITY, Iowa - Lemi-Ola Aregbesola has been through the wringer over the last 18 months.
When the pandemic ramped up, she had to quit her job due to concerns with contracting COVID-19, combined with her issues with Crohn's disease and sickle cell anemia have. Through most of the last year, she stayed in her bedroom, limited her trips outside, restricted guests coming over, and stayed somewhat distant from her family.
"My children aren't small. They're teenagers, but they still cling. They still need a hug every day, they need a kiss every morning, a kiss goodnight, peek in to see what you're doing, sit in on the side of you. It was hard for my girls not to be able to do that often."
Now back to work for the past near two months, she still limits her trips outside of home and work, and has been working on catching up with rent, contributing whenever she can. She also applied for Iowa's rental and utility assistance program back in April, but the money has yet to arrive.
"That's a lot of months where rent didn't get paid, but you still had to pay other bills. You might have wanted to pay your rent, and you didn't have it, that was even worse. To know that your lights are going to be cut off, or your water is going to be cut off, you have to make tough decisions."
While she has been fortunate that her family has not faced eviction, the same can't be said for many others.
"Every time you go to sleep at night, you think about when you wake up in the morning, are you going to have that eviction notice on your door? Are you going to get a phone call that says we mailed you something in the mail and you should get it in a couple of days that tells you have 72 hours to vacate your place. They don't have a place to go. There's a lot of people out here that it happened to, and they lost everything."
By the end of the weekend, an estimated 3.6 million people may be without a home after the federal eviction moratorium expires, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey that was released earlier this month. Despite President Biden urging Congress to extend the date, the moratorium will be allowed to expire on Saturday.
For property manager Russ Hardy, he understands his tenants' plight, and has been working with tenants like Lemi-Ola to keep a roof over their heads, including directing them to available assistance. But he says the moratorium has to end.
"We have to pay utilities on the ones that people are living in that aren't paying rent. We still have our insurance to pay on our properties every month, and we have real estate taxes that are due twice a year, and mortgage payments we continue to make."
While he's been fortunate to not have serious financial troubles, having sold two houses to cover expenses, he says not everyone has that luxury.
He notes of some tenants' desire to not work and pay rent, which causes a strain.
"People that want to work...there are job opportunities out there for them. With a job, most people are able to pay their bills. Starting wages around here have increased. There's no reason that somebody that can work shouldn't be able to find a job."
Lemi-Ola urges those that know they can work but choose not to to find a job.
"Today's the day, you've got to get up. There are a lot of jobs out here that are hiring. Get up and apply. You can make some money. Some money is better than no money."
With the delay in assistance, she's also pleading with landlords to be patient.
"It's been stressful on both ends, but don't give up. Just bear with us a little while longer."
To date, only $7.6 million out of the allotted $195 million in federal rent assistance has been distributed. In the Des Moines area, a program specific to that area has distributed more than $15.2 million to nearly 3,400 households.
A spokesperson with the Iowa Finance Authority says the state has not decided whether to apply for a second round of federal rental assistance money that is available.