IOWA CITY — The majority of Johnson County renters are burdened by housing costs, but they now have a stronger champion.
Johnson County Affordable Housing Coalition officials announced Tuesday that their organization, which has been unofficial for three years, has become an official 501c3 non-profit.
Sally Scott, the coalition’s founding chairwoman, said the new classification should give the organization more stability and structure while it advocates for the 57 percent of Johnson County renters who are housing-cost burdened.
“The main aspect of this organization is to fight for affordable housing,” said Johnson County Supervisor Mike Carberry, who is a member of the coalition. “This is probably the No. 1 issue in Johnson County.”
Being “housing-cost burdened” means residents pay 30 percent or more of their income in living expenses.
A June 2016 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago shows owner-occupation rates are much lower in Johnson County than the Iowa or U.S. average. This means more people in Johnson County are renting their homes or apartments than buying.
Iowa City’s student population may contribute in part to the high rental rates, but renting also may be the only financially realistic option for other Johnson County residents, according to the Fed report.
Mark Signs, a local Realtor and president of the coalition’s board of directors, said it’s difficult to find housing that first-time homebuyers, such as young families, or minimum-wage earners can afford to purchase.
The study points out that median rent prices in the county have risen 35 percent since 1980, while median household income for renters has declined 13 percent, to $26,262, over the same time period.
Rental rates have outpaced those in “peer” counties, such as those for Duluth, Minn., or Topeka. Kansas.
“I would actually call it a crisis and we need all hands on deck,” Carberry said.
The coalition’s new classification in fact may help get more of those helping hands in on the issue.
Scott said the new board of directors, which the coalition was required to name to become a non-profit, brings in many different areas of expertise. Representatives from Habitat for Humanity, the Center for Workforce Justice and the Shelter House, among others, make up the new board.
With its new status, the coalition now requires members to pay dues to help support its initiatives. If any Any organization or individual can become a member by signing up on the website at http://smgs.us/3k9y.
Its meetings are open to the public and typically occur at noon, on the last Friday of every month, in the county’s Health and Human Services building, 855 S Dubuque St.
“It’s going to take more people to help keep that process rolling,” Signs said.