Unlocking barriers to affordable housing

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Sheila Parker-Wilson remembers the walking-on-egg-shells feeling of homelessness, of being at the mercy of someone with a home who could yank the welcome mat out from under her.

Barb Arland-Fye
The key to success for Sheila Parker-Wilson began with a hand up from Humility of Mary Housing Inc., which provided her with transitional housing and resources that allowed her to complete her education, get a job and move into her own apartment. She hasn’t been homeless in 11 years.

She vowed during a May 3 news conference on affordable housing that she would never be homeless again. “I have been part of affordable housing. I have been part of being homeless. We need affordable housing. We need somewhere to call home,” the 44-year-old mother of four grown daughters said.

Parker-Wilson held up a key, attached to a ribbon necklace with a slip of paper promoting National Housing Week of Action May 1-8. She got choked up, thinking about the key she has to her own apartment in Davenport. She believes everyone should have a key to their own home or apartment, but that won’t happen until housing becomes more affordable. “We need a key! We need a key!” she chanted. Others at the news conference in Sister Concetta Park, holding similar keys, joined in the chanting.

As the gap between the haves and the have-nots grows, the availability of affordable housing is also shrinking. Nationwide, just one out of four families in need receive housing assistance, according to ourhomes-ourvoices.org. Families and individuals living in the 22 counties within the Dio­cese of Davenport are among those struggling to find affordable housing.

“Families are being forced to double and triple up in inadequate, unsafe living units,” organizers of the Davenport news conference said. “Twenty-one percent of all Scott County families are spending more than 50 percent of their monthly income on rent and are truly one illness or accident away from being evicted — and forced into homelessness.”

Affordable housing challenges are not limited to Scott County. In Clinton County, for example, 2,625 households earning less than 30 percent of the Average Median Income (AMI) were seeking affordable housing, but just 337 units of affordable housing were available, according to a September 2017 report from the Iowa Institute for Community Alliances (ICA).

In Muscatine County, 1,835 households earning less than 30 percent of the AMI were seeking affordable housing. Just 110 units were available. And in Scott County, 7,155 households earning less than 30 percent of the AMI were vying for just 423 available units of affordable housing.

Over the next several months, the Shelter and Trans­itional Housing Council of the Quad Cities plans to convene small groups of stakeholders from the real estate, legal, faith, civil rights, police and human services communities to generate local solutions to the national housing crisis.

Efforts are under way in Clinton, as well. “The Sisters of St. Francis and the Franciscan Peace Center have been gathering a broad cross section of the community to explore and address the rising homeless population in Clinton,” said Sister Janice Cebula, OSF, president of the

Clinton Franciscans. “The group has been engaging in research to help them understand the complexity of all the factors underlying the growing trend, including the demographics of the area and the availability of affordable housing in Clinton. The group includes representatives of social service agencies, the school system, city, elected officials and other concerned citizens.”

“Housing is critical to quality of life,” John De Taeye, director of development for Humility of Mary Housing Inc. and Humility of Mary Shelter Inc. in Davenport said at the May 3 news conference. He is critical of downtown revitalization efforts that would eliminate 75 units of affordable housing. That would drive up rent and cause the displacement of people struggling with poverty, he said. Enhancing the downtown to draw tourism, business and newcomer residents is fine, but it should not be done at the expense of the poor.

De Taeye urged the audience to get active, attend city council and school board meetings to express their concerns about the lack of affordable housing and the impact that closing a school can have on a neighborhood.

“Welcome to our neighborhood,” said Ann Schwickerath, director of Project Renewal, which moved into the central city neighborhood more than 40 years ago to create a positive influence. Located in a cozy house across the street from the park, Project Renewal provides after-school and summer programs for youths. It is a place where they can do homework or receive educational assistance, participate in physical and mental activities and learn positive behavior and social skills.

Keirsten Anderson of the Davenport Civil Rights Commission noted that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. The federal law “protects people from discrimination when they are renting, buying, or securing financing for any housing,” according to hud.gov. Specifically, discrimination is prohibited pertaining to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and the presence of children. The Davenport Civil Rights Ordinance includes additional protected classes, Anderson noted.

“Housing is an anchor,” she said. But it can also be “an anchor around the neck,” when people struggle to make rent or house payments. “We’ve accomplished a lot in the last 50 years, but we have a lot more to do.” Working together, affordable housing is an achievable goal, she added. “Our director has a saying on her door: ‘Do what is right, not what is easy.’”

Jim Richardson, president of Ecumenical Housing, spoke about his organization’s investment in the neighborhood. Ecumenical Housing purchased duplexes and apartments in the neighborhood about 20 years ago and has been rehabbing the rental units ever since. “It’s not easy for people living on fixed incomes to reinvest in their property,” he said. “We feel that investing in the neighborhood is the right thing to do.”

Most recently, the nonprofit has been involved in a $130,000 tuck-pointing project of two of its apartment buildings in the neighborhood.
Some of the tenants in the 23 units that Ecumenical Housing owns in the neighborhood have lived in their homes for 20 years, Richardson said, which helps contribute to the neighborhood’s stability. “Having a safe and secure neighborhood is very important,” he said. “If you don’t have a safe and secure neighborhood you’re always looking over your shoulder wondering what’s next.”

Lloyd Kilmer, a retired school administrator, told the audience: “I’m here to give voice to the kids. They need stable housing.” Children need homes as much as they need food and security. He advocated for opportunities for young teachers to live in the neighborhoods of the families they serve.

Humility of Mary Housing Inc. gave Parker-Wilson the opportunity she needed to move from homelessness to hopefulness. “They gave me resources,” she said. Now she’s paying it forward, advocating for others in search of affordable homes.

Series on housing crisis

The Shelter and Transitional Housing Council of the Quad Cities (STHC) is organizing a Lunch & Launch series “Quad Cities Housing Solutions” to address lack of affordable housing.

The coalition will convene stakeholders from the real estate sector, legal, faith, civil rights, policy and human service sectors to generate local solutions to the national housing crisis.

The series (times and places to be announced) will cover these topics:

• Thursday, June 7: In Our Own Voices (Participants and former participants of services and programs offered by members of the Shelter and Housing Council)
• Thursday, Aug. 2: Developers, Landlords, Funders
• Thursday, Sept. 6: Legal Aid, Policy Makers, Civil Rights
• Tuesday, Sept. 25: National Voter Registration Day
• Thursday, Oct. 4: Service Organizations, Veterans Groups
• Thursday, Nov. 1: Health Care, Law Enforcement, Group Care
• Thursday, Dec. 6, Combined Sectors
• Final report, Martin Luther King Jr. holiday week, Jan. 21–25, 2019

For more information about the campaign to fight for safe, quality housing for persons with extremely low income, go to:
https://www.ourhomes-ourvoices.org/

Home

For more information about the affordable housing shortage in Iowa, go to Iowa – Institute for Community Alliances:
https://www.icalliances.org/iowa/

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