116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Nearly two decades ago, I lived in Iowa City as a single mother with two small children. I worked, but my wages were not sufficient to cover our basic needs so we relied on Section 8 housing assistance to help pay the rent.
In 2015, Iowa City — county seat of what has been lovingly referred to as the People’s Republic of Johnson County for as long as I can recall — gained notable mention for its high levels of housing segregation compared to other metropolitan areas nationwide according to a Martin Prosperity Institute study.
Certainly economic opportunity inequities and your run-of-the-mill, not-in-my-backyard attitudes played a role. A professor of mine at the University of Iowa recounted for the class one afternoon how his Iowa City Realtor, aware that she could not tell him the racial demographics of the neighborhood, gave him statistics for a nearby elementary instead.
However, the impact of allowing landlords to exclude people on Section 8 from renting a home meant that options for tenants like me were extremely limited. The rental market was already flush with students, so a landlord had little incentive to accept a person relying on housing assistance — especially if they already held certain stereotypes about what a person relying on housing assistance is like. After all, if the motives of a landlord were purely financial, who wouldn’t want a guaranteed payment of rent through a housing voucher?
When I was making calls to prospective landlords, I had a pretty good idea where I was going to end up: somewhere in proximity to the income restricted sliding scale housing complexes Lakeside Apartments or Pheasant Ridge. These became the centralized areas of town for acceptance of Section 8 vouchers by landlords.
In 2016, Iowa City put in place an ordinance that mandated landlords use the same measures and screenings with all potential renters, regardless of their source of income. It was no longer acceptable to refuse someone the opportunity to rent a home simply because they relied on Section 8.
On April 30, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a bill that will repeal that ordinance, along with similar ordinances for Des Moines and Marion, effective in 2023. This brandishing of her pen will impact thousands of Iowa families and reintroduce the housing discrimination that these three communities decided to eradicate.
Reynolds praised the new bill as creating “choice” for landlords. Stripping these communities of their source of income ordinances actually offers a reduction in options for tenants — choices about where they live, where their children go to school, where they work, what grocery options are nearby, who will provide child care, what health care is most accessible and what transportation is available.
The new law, by limiting these choices for tenants, limits opportunity for economic mobility, condenses people experiencing poverty into areas of economic hardship which are then often over-policed and under-resourced, and fosters further division and misunderstanding.
Further, segregation is bad for everyone. In 2013, the University of North Carolina published a study that analyzed data from U.S. metropolitan areas spanning 25 years. The results demonstrated that regions with higher segregation do not fare as well as more integrated cities economically, due to the cost of poverty for those in poverty and those with higher socio-economic status.
The true impacts of this reversal may be felt for generations to come.
Sofia DeMartino is honored to spend her days at local nonprofit Horizons advocating for those in need. Her passion for this work is driven by her own experience as a teen mother in poverty and the transformational impact of the social service network in our community. Comments: email@example.com