By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Brittney and Reggie Beachem welcome a visitor into the duplex they rent from Humility Homes and Services, a home that the couple says provides an important foundation in their family’s life. “Now I have a husband, a nice home and stability. I can further my career and do my dream,” says Brittney, the mother of three sons ages 17, 16 and 9.
Living the dream is possible because Humility Homes and Services (HHSI) ensures that its apartments and homes are affordable for individuals and families who cannot compete in a market short on affordable housing. Fair and affordable housing remains an elusive goal for a number of Iowans, and disproportionately for Black Iowans, more than a half-century after the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (the Fair Housing Act) became law on April 11, 1968.
“Across all of our programs, 30% of the people we serve identify as Black or African American,” said Ryan Bobst, Strategic Initiatives and Grants Manager with HHSI. Black Iowans represent approximately 12% of the population in the Quad Cities. For people who cite eviction as the primary cause of their homelessness, a disproportionate number are Black. “More people getting evicted are people of color,” Bobst said.
A new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) provides evidence. “Systemic racism, past and present, has led to significant racial disparities in both renter demographics and adverse outcomes experienced by renters, such as cost burdens, evictions, and homelessness” (NLIHC, April 21, 2022). “While the Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlawed overt discrimination,” the NLIHC said, “subtler forms of housing discrimination continue to constrain the options of people of color.”
An in-depth data review by HHSI and the Institute for Community Alliances found that persons who identify as Black were 5.86 times more likely to enter the homeless system in Scott County than persons who identify with any other race or ethnicity. The partners’ analysis of nearly 5,000 people took place between January 2017 and October 2021.
Slightly more than 70.5% of Black households experienced cost-burden or paid more than 30% of their income on housing expenses in the Quad Cities, Bobst said. That compares with 31.6% of white households. “What HHSI sees is the outcome of this systemic racism. We’re trying to meet people where they are at in their crisis or emergency and working upstream to address the challenges that persist,” he said.
Reggie and Brittney are grateful for HHSI’s multipronged approach. Brittney called HHSI for help while living with her three young sons at her grandmother’s house after leaving an abusive relationship. HHSI provided the young family with a home and support, such as job searching, to gain stability. “As a single mom, there really was nowhere to turn. (HHSI) gave me a place to live and the social workers they have there are very caring,” Brittney said. “They put in their time to help.”
After Brittney and Reggie met online, he moved from Chicago to the Quad Cities to find work. He lived temporarily at Humility Homes and Services Shelter while job searching. He found work but ended up job searching again around the time HHSI needed a maintenance technician, the position he now holds. “This is a second chance, a good opportunity,” Reggie said. It gives me the opportunity to work hard, stay focused and maintain stability.”
“I love Humility Homes and Services,” Brittney said. “They have helped our life flourish.” She looks forward to developing her own business, “Care Giving Direct,” to provide elderly people with services they need to remain at home. She completed studies to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and now works as a pharmacy technician, taking online classes to complete certification in that field so she can provide more services to her future clients.
Her sons appreciate their home and the personal space they now enjoy. Darius Harris, 17, the oldest sibling tells his mom, “If you can do it; I can do it.”
“When people have stable housing that is affordable, it is life-changing,” Bobst said. Stable, affordable housing reduces people’s involvement in the criminal justice, homeless, hospital and emergency care systems, he said.
An important piece in HHSI’s strategy to increase affordable housing is serving as the landlord. “We’ll increase our housing portfolio by 83 percent by the end of this calendar year,” Bobst said. That initiative will add 60 units of affordable housing to the existing 72 units HHSI owns. He described American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds as the tipping point in leveraging other funds into affordable housing.
HHSI announced March 31 that Scott County Board of Supervisors approved ARPA funds of $3,140,800 for the housing agency. The grant will allow HHSI to purchase 35 units (apartments and houses) to provide housing and supportive services to families and individuals to nurture their ability to maintain stable housing. Another $1 million in funding is going toward HHSI’s Mission-Focused Housing (participants are self-sufficient but struggle to find affordable housing) and comes from several different sources.
Another piece of HHSI’s affordable housing strategy is collaborating with other nonprofits regionally and statewide and advocating for enforcement of the Fair Housing Act. “We believe housing is a human right and everyone deserves a home,” Bobst said.
(Visit the Humility Homes and Services website at humilityhomes.org for information and volunteer and donation opportunities.)