Guest Columnist

Iowa faces a critical need for housing

Volunteers at a Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity house on 16th Avenue SW in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, May. 12, 2018. (S
Volunteers at a Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity house on 16th Avenue SW in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, May. 12, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

The Iowa Housing Partnership, a nonprofit affordable housing advocacy group was created to assist in breaking down the barriers of affordable housing. Iowa is facing a critical shortage of affordable housing now in 2020, which will go down in history in so many ways.

Here in Iowa, many people face a severe housing crisis, and this impacts their day-to-day lives. It is known that housing is a critical component of safe and healthy families, yet in Iowa, we have people who are severely rent burdened, struggling to make ends meet, to provide a safe roof for themselves and their families.

The lowest income people are often those hit hardest by disasters, whether that disaster is a pandemic or a derecho. What COVID-19 and its economic impact have shown is how important housing is the fabric of a community. Without a safe place to call home, families are torn apart, having to live under tarps because their home were destroyed by a natural disaster.

In the state of Iowa, 76,911 renter households pay more than half of their monthly expenses on rent. In order to afford a one-bedroom apartment, a minimum wage worker has to work 67 hours a week.

With the lasting effects of COVID-19 and the Derecho, the need for affordable housing is critical. In Cedar Rapids, currently there were over 1,700 residential units that were deemed unsafe to enter or had major damage. It is estimated that at least half of these households will need temporary housing for the next two to three months, as insurance claims are processed and rehab is completed.

We need our leaders on the city, county, state and the federal side to take action. When these disasters pass, and they will, we want to be on the side of a conversation where someone says “You know who did it right? Iowa did.”

The immediate question is, how can we do that? Actually, the answers are easy.

First, expand the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, an essential part of every major disaster recovery effort in Iowa and around the country. This allows us to provide affordable homes for those in need, rebuild even stronger, and put Iowans back to work. We call for Congress to expand and strengthen the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act, which has earned bipartisan support from more than half of the U.S. House of Representatives and more than one-third of the Senate.

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Second, have our local governments reduce regulatory requirements to allow for quicker rebuilding of communities, which could include suspension of building standards that add to the construction costs.

Third, urge the state government to create a disaster housing program to help families with immediate needs after a disaster.

Fourth, increase the funding for local housing trust funds. Will provide ongoing resources for projects across Iowa, controlled locally, to respond to local needs as they arise.

And finally, create the first ever state Affordable Housing Tax Credit, which will help in the building of affordable housing.

With every crisis comes opportunity. With every downturn, there is a chance to repair, but let’s realize that housing is a right, and every Iowan should have a safe place to call home.

Dan Garrett chairs the Iowa Housing Partnership, a nonprofit affordable housing advocacy group. iowahousingpartnership@gmail.com

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