IOWA DERECHO 2020

6 families with housing vouchers still await homes after being displaced by derecho

Of 23 Cedar Rapids families with housing vouchers whose rentals were damaged in derecho, 17 have new units

LaKricia Browning talks with daughter Elena, 4, while holding baby Blakely on Wednesday at their newly found Hiawatha ho
LaKricia Browning talks with daughter Elena, 4, while holding baby Blakely on Wednesday at their newly found Hiawatha home. Her other daughter, Eliza, 2, is held by friend Angel Green. Browning’s rental home was damaged in the Aug. 10 storm, and she navigated renters’ insurance and finding a new apartment that would accept leased housing vouchers before giving birth to Blakely in late September. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
/

HIAWATHA — LaKricia Browning traded a house with a yard that was close to family for an apartment in Hiawatha.

But she’s grateful.

“We don’t have a backyard anymore, but it’s actually bigger than my house and we have a hallway if there’s a storm,” said Browning, 26.

Browning and her children are among 23 Cedar Rapids-area families who participate in the federal Housing Choice Voucher program whose rental units were heavily damaged in the Aug. 10 derecho. Most of the families have moved into new houses or apartments, but six families still are waiting two months later.

“We continue to work with these families to find housing and most are staying with family in the interim,” said Sara Buck, Cedar Rapids Housing Programs manager. “We want to ensure families are happy with their housing, which includes things like proximity to their children’s school, or close to where they work. We plan to give them all the time they need to relocate, as we know this has been hard on them.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which runs the federal voucher program, typically allows 120 days for a participant to find new housing. But since Linn County has a presidential disaster declaration, local officials said they would grant extensions so residents don’t lose the vouchers.

Getting out of a hotel

Browning was in a hurry to find a new place to live.

When the storm struck, she was eight months’ pregnant. Her rental insurance paid for Browning and her two oldest daughters, Elena, 4, and Eliza, 2, to stay in a Coralville hotel so Browning could be close to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where she was scheduled to give birth Sept. 24.

But because Browning didn’t want to take her newborn into a hotel during the COVID-19 pandemic, she pushed to find a new rental before the baby’s due date.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“I got in here Sept. 1,” she said, adding that AMMT Property Management Company worked to help find her the first available unit and city employees expedited the approval needed for the voucher program.

Baby Blakely arrived Sept. 24, which Elena proclaimed when The Gazette talked recently with Browning.

“We got a new sister!” the girl shouted.

Eliza spent part of the interview kissing the sleeping baby. The rest of the time she rode scooters with Elena in the apartment parking lot and ate Popsicles — or “pockasiccas” — on the front stoop.

Browning said neighbors have been understanding of the noise that comes with a newborn and two preschool girls.

“Ideally, we’d be back into a house, but it’s somewhere,” she said. “They (the girls) are perfectly fine with it.”

Housing shortage

Cedar Rapids already had an affordable housing shortage before the derecho. A February assessment showed a vacancy rate of only 2.2 percent.

Buck said she hoped the opening of the Anderson Greene apartment complex near Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids would free up some older rental units. The 44-unit complex at 69 Miller Ave. SW is already full with a waiting list.

Karen Bernick, spokesman for Woda Cooper Companies, based in Columbus, Ohio, said construction has started on a second building scheduled to open next year.

“We can’t lease that until 120 days before moving in,” she said. “The people on our waiting list, we’ll keep in touch with them. We’ll let them know if we have openings in Anderson Greene 1 and when we start leasing for Anderson Greene 2.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The shortage of housing for low- to middle-income residents gives landlords more leverage over tenants. Browning said her previous landlord has declined to return her $700 deposit, listing damages she said likely happened in the storm. She sad she plans to take the matter to Iowa Legal Aid.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.