Affordable Housing Is a Front Page Issue

On Tuesday, June 20, the Des Moines Register ran a story ("Apartment sale could push low-income renters out of Des Moines' East Village") that brings the affordable housing challenge to the front page. For that, we are grateful.  But we wanted to take a moment and expand on Section 8 vouchers and the continuing challenges facing Greater Des Moines.

The potential sale of the River Hills Apartments has been rumored for some time, which encouraged speculation that the new owner would not accept the Section 8 vouchers. For affordable housing advocates, this is concerning because of the significant number of affordable units that have come off the market in the past five years – the Randolph, Eddy and others. If the new owners of the River Hill Apartments decide to not accept vouchers or significantly change the rents, the current residents have few options.

Created to provide housing opportunities based on “fair market” rates, the government voucher program is significantly oversubscribed. Even in our community, there is a long waiting list and new applications aren’t even being accepted. Vouchers are used simply because low-income families cannot find affordable housing without them. 

One of the often-repeated comments when we receive when we talk about affordable rental units in Greater Des Moines is the boom of multi-family units being built. Yes, there are apartment buildings being built and renovated all across the metro, but they aren’t for those making minimum wage or less. For example, the story does a great job of demonstrating how the growth and success of East Village is great on one hand, but creating issues on another.  It is great to see a neighborhood thrive, but it is at the cost of the low-income units.  Developers are “for profit” so they will charge the rents they can – it’s good business sense. 

Plus, the rental market has tightened up in the last decade.  There are fewer areas that provide fair market rents, and landlords are becoming more stringent in their rental critera. This makes more difficult for struggling families to find stable housing.  
So where are the low-income families and individuals and families supposed to live?

That’s the question we are asking. It’s time for our elected officials, metro leaders businesses and area funders to work with housing advocates to find answers.  As federal and state housing funds decrease but demand increases as Des Moines continues to grow, this is a challenge that is rapidly becoming a crisis. 

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