When Toriana Hill moved into her new apartment in The Davenport eight months ago, she had trouble unlocking the door with her key, which didn’t work. That was the beginning of challenges she experienced that culminated with having to flee for her life with her 3-year-old son as part of the six-story, C-shaped building collapsed May 28. The 80-unit apartment building was home to 53 tenants and some businesses on the first floor. Three tenants lost their lives in the collapsed section of the apartment building.
Tenants reported maintenance problems that sometimes didn’t get resolved or the response was very slow. Toriana said her malfunctioning toilet was still not working at the time of the disaster. Now she and other stranded tenants of The Davenport, many of whom have limited income, are searching for new homes. Finding safe, decent, affordable rental units is challenging throughout Iowa, particularly for people with extremely low income.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports a shortage across Iowa of “rental homes affordable and available to extremely low income households (ELI), whose incomes are at or below the poverty guideline or 30% of their area median income” (nlihc.org/housing-needs-by-state/iowa).
A 2023 report titled “ALICE in the Crosscurrents: COVID and Financial Hardship in Iowa,” found “The number of households in financial hardship in Iowa continues to be undercounted in official measures. According to the FPL (Federal Poverty Level), 11% of households in Iowa (144,427) were in poverty in 2021. Yet United For ALICE data shows that another 24% (315,017 households) — more than twice as many — were ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed).”
“ALICE households earn above the FPL, but not enough to afford the basics in the communities where they live. The reality is that of the 1.3 million households in Iowa, 459,444 — 36% — had income below the ALICE Threshold of Financial Survival in 2021. These included both households in poverty and ALICE households.” The report was a collaborative effort of United Ways of Iowa and United For ALICE.
Although the Iowa Legislature is not in session, we ought to contact our state legislators and Gov. Kim Reynolds to request that next year they revisit and rescind a 2021 law that allows landlords to turn away renters who receive assistance through the federal housing choice voucher (Section 8) program. Fewer landlords are willing to accept vouchers at a time when “we have this desperate need for housing rental units that are safe, decent and affordable,” says Leslie Kilgannon, Quad Cities Housing Council director.
She urges Iowans to support organizations such as the Quad Cities Housing Coalition (QCHC), which works to coordinate and build capacity of housing development throughout the Quad Cities and serves as the resource development arm of the Quad Cities Housing Cluster. QCHC (qchousingcouncil.org/) also serves as the local Housing Trust Fund, which is used for the production or preservation of affordable housing. You can find a map of local Housing Trust Funds in Iowa (https://tinyurl.com/5n8w7u79) as you consider supporting the one in your community.
Other suggestions for encouraging housing rental units that are safe, decent and affordable:
- Talk to the decision makers in your city or county and ask them what they are doing to support housing that is safe, decent and affordable. If the response is vague, ask them to advocate for funding for the local Housing Trust Fund to increase affordable housing.
- Ask Congress to support the “Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act” (S. 1257), which creates new housing vouchers specifically targeted to low-income families with young children and provides services to help families move to communities of their choice. https://tinyurl.com/bdd9axar
- Ask Congress and our state legislators (https://www.legis.iowa.gov/) to address the power imbalance between landlords and renters.
Finally, reflect on this statement of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: “Catholic teaching supports the right to private property, but recognizes that communities and the government have an obligation to ensure the housing needs of all are met, especially poor and vulnerable people and their families. In a time of rising homelessness and when many workers’ wages are stagnant and living expenses are rising, it is important to ensure housing security” (https://tinyurl.com/45xv9ab3).
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor