Everyone deserves affordable housing


What family or single person in Iowa could handle a 69 percent increase in rent and utility fees that far exceed actual costs? Many Iowans least able to afford a rent hike have faced that question as some out-of-state investors acquire existing manufactured-home parks and raise rents without explanation. Complaints about this unfair practice have spiked in the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, which began working with Iowa legislators last year to correct the problem. Everyone deserves affordable housing. Our church, in fact, teaches that affordable housing is a basic human right.

The source of the problem: Iowa law does not currently provide the same rights to manufactured-home owners that apartment tenants receive. The existing law skewers in favor of landlords, which means manufactured-home owners can receive hikes in rent and utility charges without explanation or timely notice and face eviction without cause, among other injustices.

Angela Smith-Stoltz and her neighbors who own manufactured homes in Park Plaza Homes in Muscatine suffered this profit over people practice. A Colorado-based investment firm bought their community last spring and soon enough boosted lot rental fees and implemented water charges that had previously been covered as part of the lot rental. Typically, manufactured-home owners pay rent for the lots on which their homes sit.

Already working two jobs, Smith-Stoltz worried that she would have to put in even more hours to support her family when the rent hike and imposition of water fees resulted in a staggering increase of $130 a month. The landlord recently reduced the water rate increase significantly, without explanation, likely because of community organizing efforts in Iowa.


Iowa’s bishops view the manufactured-home issue as one of their priorities, particularly after learning about a company that has caught attention for supposedly promising investors in several states that they would receive big returns. Putting profits over people defies the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Economic life is not meant solely to multiply goods produced and increase profit or power; it is ordered first of all to the service of persons, of the whole man, and of the entire human community” (CCC No. 2246).

How should we respond to the plight of the manufactured-home owners and their communities?

• Advocate for proposed legislation aimed at providing basic protections for Iowa’s manufactured-home owners and balancing their rights and needs with the rights and needs of landlords. Contact Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, one of the leaders in this legislative effort, along with your legislative district representatives (legis.iowa.gov).

• Follow the example of the Social Action Commission of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville, which will conduct a letter-writing campaign Feb. 23-April 5 to advocate for affordable housing. The commission will provide sample letters but encourages people to personalize their letters. Visit the parish’s Facebook page for more information. “The Catholic Social Teaching has instructed us not only to feed our brothers and sisters in need but also to fight for justice on their behalf,” Social Action Commission Chairperson Dimy Doresca says. The letter-writing campaign “is the first step in this long battle for justice.”

• Stay informed about this issue through The Catholic Messenger, Iowa Catholic Conference (iowacatholicconference.org), Center for Worker Justice (cwjiowa.org/housing/) and University of Iowa Labor Center (laborcenter.uiowa.edu/).

• Encourage tenants in manufactured-home parks to form an association to work together for their community. Associations in manufactured-home communities are working to form a statewide federation. For more information, contact Center for Worker Justice and the University of Iowa Labor Center.

• Pray for all people to have access to affordable housing in Iowa.

Single parents, retirees on fixed incomes, people with disabilities, veterans and individuals earning modest incomes turn to manufactured home parks as the most affordable option to keep a roof over their heads. Many are at the mercy of some out-of-state landlords who impose fees that are anything but merciful. All of us deserve affordable housing. When the least among us are denied that basic human right, our faith calls us to do something about it.

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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