Davenport apartment disaster compounds affordable housing crisis

Lindsay Steele
Community members participate in a prayer vigil at the site of The Davenport building collapse in Davenport, Iowa, June 4. Three men perished in the May 28 collapse.

By Barb Arland-Fye

The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT, Iowa – The bodies of three men – the only tenants still missing after the partial collapse on May 28 of The Davenport, a six-story apartment building in the city’s downtown — have been recovered, Davenport Police Chief Mike Bladel said June 5.

Searchers recovered the bodies of Branden Colvin Sr. on June 3, Ryan Hitchcock on June 4 and Daniel Prien on June 5 in the rubble of the collapsed section of the building, Bladel said during the Monday morning press conference. The disaster remains under investigation and the building’s owner has been informed that it will be demolished.


As the sun set June 4, community members gathered outside City Hall, near the collapsed building, to remember Colvin. They lit candles, prayed and sang “We Shall Not be Moved.” “Branden matters. He’s got people who love him,” said his cousin, Mike Collier.

At the time, city officials had not confirmed the deaths of the other two men but one family member told the crowd the vigil “isn’t just for Branden, but for all of them.” The crowd chanted the names of all three men. Collier and other loved ones asked the community to honor Colvin’s memory by staying strong and working for change. “Give us the strength, Lord, to fight for them,” he said. “We’ve got to stand together” by holding those responsible accountable, and by organizing to fight for tenants’ rights.

Several survivors of the unthinkable disaster shared their stories with The Catholic Messenger.

Barb Arland-Fye
Toriana Hill and her son, Nasir Ayaan Gladney, 3, attend a Multi-Agency Resource Center at the Bittner YMCA in downtown Davenport. The American Red Cross led the event for tenants displaced by the partial collapse on May 28 of The Davenport apartment building in downtown Davenport.

Toriana Hill said she was cooking “neck bones and potatoes” for soup in her apartment’s kitchen when her dog started barking and she felt the building shake. “I was thinking, ‘Is this really happening?’” Then she heard screaming. One of her neighbors, whose window she could see from her own window, yelled, “Get your baby out of the building … the building is collapsing!”

It was 4:47 p.m. Sunday, May 28, according to a text message she sent to a friend, stating “I think something happened to my building. I think my building is collapsing.” She grabbed her 3-year-old son, Nasir Ayaan Gladney, who was sleeping, and ran down the hallway of the C-shaped building, but a fallen ceiling blocked the exit. “I was scared to take the back stairs.” She had no choice. The stairwell was pitch black. Debris fell all around her and the cement dust created a cloud. She was sure that she and her son were going to die.

By the grace of God, she believes, they made it to the first floor where they finally saw light – from the gaping hole created by the partially collapsed building. As she and Nasir emerged from the building, they heard first responders screaming, “Get out of the building!” They escorted mother and son to safety.

Altogether, 53 tenants lived in The Davenport that also housed businesses on the first floor. First responders rescued nine people from the building, one of whom required a leg amputation to be freed from the wreckage. Fencing, draped in blue tarp, barricaded the apartment building, which has a gaping hole, six stories high.

Repair issues

Toriana, a U.S. Postal Service employee, and her son moved into the apartment building last October. She had been wanting to move out because of repair challenges that went unfixed and after discovering feces in the hallway, she said. However, her credit rating caused her to stay put. Davenport city records show numerous complaints filed against The Davenport regarding repair issues and violations over the last several years.

The Red Cross placed Toriana and her son in a temporary emergency shelter and she has applied for an apartment elsewhere in Davenport. “I’m mad about it (the apartment building collapse) but I feel like it’s a new start,” she said.

Barb Arland-Fye
Anthony Hopkins and his wife, Sherri, talk with a homeless outreach coordinator in the parking lot of St. Anthony Parish in downtown Davenport. The couple is among dozens of tenants displaced by the partial collapse on May 28 of The Davenport, a six-story apartment building a block-and-half away from St. Anthony’s.

Anthony Hopkins pulled out his wallet and flipped it open to show a reporter proof of his address: 324 N. Main Street, Davenport. It is an address now etched in the minds of people living far beyond Davenport because of the unthinkable disaster.

Anthony and his wife, Sherri, stood June 2 in the parking lot of St. Anthony Parish in downtown Davenport, which operates its McAnthony Window ministry for people in need of food, groceries, clothing, bus tokens and more. The parish served as a temporary reunification center the night of the disaster for tenants and loved ones searching for missing family members. St. Anthony’s is just a block-and-half away from The Davenport. John Blunk, a St. Anthony parishioner, tweeted that daily Masses over the past week have included prayers for those impacted by the building collapse.

Sherri Hicks was among the tenants who fled the building after its partial collapse. She remembers hearing a strange cracking sound. She decided to take out the trash and after doing that, she turned around to see part of the building gone. “I thought I was in a movie,” she said. “It shook me so bad.”  She called her husband, who was at friend’s house, and said, “Babe, the building is gone!” Anthony couldn’t believe it, “so I sent him a video of it,” Sherri said.

Housing crisis

Like many of their neighbors at The Davenport, Anthony and Sherri need permanent, affordable housing, which could be challenging. Anthony works at a fast-food restaurant and Sherri works as a care provider.

“This tragedy underscores the need for more affordable housing in communities like ours nationwide,” said John Cooper, pastoral associate and business manager for St. Anthony Parish. “Alcohol, drugs, and mental illness contribute to homelessness, but the lack of affordable housing is the root cause. The best thing we can do is work with our government and business leaders to create more affordable and safe places for people to live.”

Leslie Kilgannon, Quad Cities Housing Council director, said the tragedy exacerbates the housing crisis for people with limited incomes who struggle to find homes that are affordable, decent and safe. Just two summers ago, the City of Davenport condemned an apartment building that left a number of households wondering how they would find affordable housing. That same year, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law allowing landlords to turn away renters who receive assistance through the federal housing choice voucher program.

Some 15,455 Quad-City households (12.1% of total Quad-City households) live with extremely low incomes, earning just 30% of the Area Median Income, according to the Quad Cities Housing Cluster’s “Silos to Solutions” long-term vision to address affordable housing needs (2020). In addition, the Quad Cities has lost 30.5% of fair market units in both units that have become dilapidated and closed, and units whose rent has risen above the fair market rate.

“We have this desperate need for housing rental units that are safe, decent and affordable for folks with extremely low income levels,” Kilgannon said. “My hope is that this (tragedy) will serve as a catalyst. We need the sustained support of (the Quad Cities’ governing bodies) toward creating affordable housing units. They need to contribute to the solution.”

Human rights

Tyrrannie Thomas, director of quality improvement for Humility Homes and Services (HHSI) in Davenport, said long before the disaster HHSI heard from households it had served regarding complaints of unresolved repairs, lack of heat in the winter and other issues. “We sent some people to hotels because it was too cold (in their apartments).”

Some tenants do not complain because “they’re afraid of losing their housing,” she said. She tried to explain that tenants have a right a home that is livable, safe and affordable. “Your heat should work, your water should work.” Tenants should not be treated poorly because they have limited income, she said.

Among the legislative principles of the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) is this one: “Every person has basic human rights and is entitled to basic human necessities, such as food, housing, clean water and air, education, health care, and productive work for fair wages.” The U.S. bishops say, “[E]very person has a fundamental right to life and right to those things required for human decency.”

(Catholic Messenger reporter Lindsay Steele contributed to this story.)

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