By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Thirteen counties in the Diocese of Davenport are recipients of grants that aim to ease the chronic affordable housing shortage in Iowa. That good news comes from the Iowa Finance Authority, which announced Dec. 1 the awarding of more than $9 million in grants to 27 Local Housing Trust Funds to support local housing initiatives. The grants, made available through the Local Housing Trust Fund program, aim to assist more than 2,100 families.
Iowa Finance Authority Executive Director Debi Durham said the awards “represent the largest amount allocated through the program for local housing initiatives since the program’s inception (in 2003).” She credited the Iowa Legislature for recognizing “the Local Housing Trust Fund program as a highly successful funding mechanism for advancing housing opportunities for Iowans last session by increasing the amount of eligible funding for the program.”
The 2022 Local Housing Trust Fund Program Awards will help preserve aging housing stock, subsidize local rental and down payment assistance programs and provide low-interest loans or grants to assist Iowans with home rehabilitation. The funds will also finance construction of new single-family housing for low-income Iowans and support housing for persons with disabilities and homeless assistance programs.
Counties in the Diocese of Davenport that will benefit from the grant awards are Appanoose, Cedar, Clinton, Henry, Johnson, Keokuk, Lee, Louisa, Mahaska, Monroe, Muscatine, Scott and Wapello. The awards will leverage an additional $2.5 million in other financing or 28 cents for every dollar of Local Housing Trust Fund program funding. The Iowa Legislature created the State Housing Trust Fund, which since 2003 has provided $93 million in affordable housing assistance to benefit more than 31,000 Iowa families, the Iowa Finance Authority said.
“The good news is there is an infusion of more funds into the State Housing Trust fund which is beginning in 2022,” said Quad Cities Housing Council Director Leslie Kilgannon, representing the two counties served by a $506,000 grant — Scott and Muscatine. “Of course, we need major sustained investment from our local governments to match the state dollars to make a greater impact.”
More good news followed on Dec. 7, when the Quad Cities Community Foundation announced the awarding of a $350,000 Transformation Grant over three years to Quad Cities Housing Council (QCHC) to support affordable housing solutions in the region.
The grant comes from the Community Foundation’s Quad Cities Community Impact Fund and is the largest Transformation Grant in the Community Foundation’s 57-year history. It demonstrates the Community Foundation’s commitment to building an equitable, inclusive Quad-Cities region, the foundation said in its announcement. Initially, the funding will emphasize building QCHC’s internal capacity. Afterwards, the focus will be implementation of QCHC’s Silos to Solutions Affordable Housing Vision for 2030.
“Without safe, decent, and affordable housing for all, our community can’t thrive,” said Randy Moore, president of Iowa American Water and board chairperson and interim president and CEO of the Community Foundation. “… we’re confident that making just such an investment in the Quad Cities Housing Council will mean a more prosperous and equitable community for everyone who calls the Quad Cities home.”
Kilgannon said the COVID-19 pandemic brought greater awareness of the affordable housing crisis. “As we see our society coming to an acknowledgment that before the pandemic things weren’t working for everybody, we need to forge a new path,” she said. “At the Council, we have the vision, we have capable entities with proven track records, and now we have this major investment.”
QCHC coordinates affordable housing activities and programs with the area’s nonprofit housing services providers and developers. The organization is the resource development arm of the Quad Cities Housing Cluster, a 60-member coalition of nonprofit and for-profit entities dedicated to addressing the overall housing needs and opportunities in the Quad Cities.
Based on nearly a year of research, community engagement and diverse feedback and input, QCHC’s Affordable Housing Vision outlines six concrete strategies for addressing the affordable housing crisis in the region. The strategies: producing more affordable units, preserving existing units, protecting tenants’ rights, providing services that support housing stability, raising local housing funds, and growing community partnerships around the issue.
“The most important thing to know about our vision is that it’s achievable,” said Kilgannon. “The problem of affordable housing can seem so overwhelming that some people want to throw up their hands and walk away. But with our vision and these six strategies, we’re saying that there actually are things we can do to move the needle not just a little bit but a lot.”
QCHC will focus the first year of the grant on such measures as hiring additional staff for administrative support and fostering a stronger presence on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. Other measures include grants management, data collection and communications support that will allow Kilgannon to spend more time raising additional funding and conducting advocacy work on local housing policy. “We have to keep telling the story about why we need more safe, decent, and affordable housing for everyone in our community,” she said.
Advocacy efforts include seeking greater protections for renters and more relationship building with landlords, Kilgannon said. She hopes, for instance that landlords will be more willing to accept Section 8 vouchers that subsidize a tenant’s rent. “The City of Davenport has a program incentivizing landlords to accept vouchers, that’s a great idea and more of this is needed.”
Priorities for years two and three will likely include raising and distributing additional funds, leading policy work to encourage or require more affordable units in new multi-family developments, acquiring and rehabilitating properties as affordable rentals, and establishing a tenant alliance, among other projects.
“We’ve had the privilege of learning about the affordable housing crisis by engaging at the table with the Quad Cities Housing Council,” said Kelly Thompson, the Community Foundation’s vice president of grantmaking and community initiatives and a member of the task force that developed QCHC’s Affordable Housing Vision. “Thanks to the support of generous donors across our community, we’re proud to be part of the Council’s work — and to help it raise the bar for what it can do going forward.”