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Affordable Housing Remains A Problem For Some Minorities

A screenshare on Zoom shows a PowerPoint slide that says "ICLA: Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs" and "Affordable Housing Panel Webinar Series." Five people appear in windows on the right side.
Kassidy Arena
The five panelists appearing on the webinar on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. (From top to bottom) Ted Grevstad-Nordbrock, Caleb Knutson, Johnny Alcivar, Kendyl Larson and Julie Winter discussed housing issues such as the gentrification of Des Moines, lack of funding and natural disaster housing response.

Housing experts say it’s difficult for many minorities to find affordable housing in Des Moines. One reason for that is a past practice that affected who could get housing loans.

Affordable housing in Des Moines is difficult to find, according to panelists at an affordable housing discussion held by the Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs. The speakers talked about housing options, or the lack thereof, for minority communities.

Kendyl Larson, the director of research and planning at the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, said one reason it’s so hard for minorities to find housing is because of the past practice of redlining, which is a discriminatory practice to refuse or limit housing loans within specific geographical areas.

“That’s a big racist housing policy from our past, from a federal level. And I mean the impact that it’s had on our communities of color are significant and you can see the legacy of those impacts today,” Larson said.

She said even today, African Americans in Polk County are almost 25 percent more likely to be denied when they apply for home loans.

Julie Winter, the planning director for Region 6 Resource Partners, followed up Larson's point with an affordable housing issue in rural areas. Region 6 Resource Partners is an association of local governments in Hardin, Marshall, Poweshiek and Tama counties.

Finding housing in Iowa’s rural towns has become a hard thing to do, especially for minorities. Winter said redlining is a past policy affecting today's housing problems, but there is also a current policy adding to the problem: contract housing/land sales. Winter said it's a predatory practice when, essentially, a buyer enters a complicated agreement for a rent-to-own situation. She said it was very common in Marshalltown after the 2018 tornado for people involved in these types of contracts to lose all the money they had invested in their houses.

"These are very bad situations that put these contract buyers in a very unique position that they're vulnerable," Winter said. "And it pretty much exists because there's a lack of financing availability, a lack of access to financing. And that is a policy that could definitely be looked at."

Although the pandemic added its own obstacles to the affordable housing dilemma in Iowa, the panelists said there is another problem when it comes to funding.

Johnny Alcivar, the director of workforce programs for non-profit Proteus and former Des Moines city planner, said the whole state of Iowa tries to share a small amount of funds for affordable housing.

“The low-income housing tax credit which puts rural versus urban projects competing for the same resources and it’s usually, I think the majority, I don’t want to be misquoted, but the majority are targeting urban areas," Alcivar said.

Panelists said as housing options in the state become more expensive, many migrant and refugee populations are displaced. According to panelist Ted Grevstad-Nordbrock, an assistant professor in the Department of Community and Regional Planning, this pattern of gentrification is almost impossible to quantify. Once a person is displaced, it's hard to keep track of where they go.

"I tell my students there's no device, there's no app, there's no 'gentrification-ometer' that you could go into a neighborhood with and detect the presence or the degree of gentrification," Grevstad-Nordbrock said.

He said to address the issue of displacement of minority populations and to offer more affordable housing options government officials must "confront the issues head-on." He and the panelists went on to say that in order to do that, communities must vote and encourage the state/federal government to invest more funding into neighborhood projects, as well as provide more incentives for developers to create affordable housing options.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines
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