Eastern Iowa Is Now Part of Chicago!
The distance from Chicago to Dubuque, or Clinton, or Davenport is around 200 miles. It’s almost 250 from Burlington. Yet recent and proposed actions by the federal government are making Eastern Iowa part of the “greater-Chicago area.”
The expanding federal nanny state has decided that our river towns, many of which are struggling to provide good jobs and decent housing for low-income people who already live here, should focus on recruiting low-income people from outside the state, instead of working to recruit military veterans, active retirees, or young college graduates, who can remain in their hometowns, start businesses, begin families, and help lift their neighborhoods up.
The process is starting with the low-income housing rental programs of Dubuque. Many people rent housing instead of buying, allowing greater flexibility in living arrangements — including ease of moving for jobs, increased cost controls to help manage expenses, and no responsibility for maintenance. Unfortunately, rental properties in the last few years have not kept up with demand, resulting in lower vacancies and higher rents.
Many people have turned to government-supported low-income housing programs, specifically the Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) program or Section 8. The HCV program is supposedly controlled by local (generally city or county based) public housing agencies (PHAs). The money for vouchers comes from taxpayers – after being routed through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Once an individual receives a Section 8 voucher, they find a rental owner who will accept it. Typically there are more applicants than money available. Many waiting lists are long. And typically there are more Section 8 voucher holders than there are owners willing to accept them. Both the individual application process and the owner’s property requirements are significant and onerous.
If HUD is successful at finalizing the Affirmatively Further Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation this summer – proposed a year ago – local control of Section 8 will be significantly eroded. According to HUD’s press release, “HUD will provide data for every neighborhood … in the country, detailing the access African American, Latino, Asian, and other communities have to local assets, including schools, jobs, transportation, and … resources that can play a role in helping people move into the middle class. Long-term solutions will involve various strategies, such as helping people gain access to different neighborhoods and channeling investments into underserved areas,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.
After an extensive investigation of alleged discrimination in their local priority ranking system, which was found to unfairly keep minorities (mostly from out of state, specifically Chicago, Illinois, which is four hours away) from being approved and placed on the Dubuque Section 8 voucher list, HUD forced officials to sign a Voluntary Compliance Agreement ceding control of their program even before AFFH is finalized. Dubuque is being required to not focus on the local needy citizens, but instead to attract and recruit new low-income renters from outside of Iowa. They must specifically advertise for and recruit low-income applicants reflecting the demographics of Chicago. The administrative burden is significant and Dubuque is required to follow HUD’s every direction for the next five years or more.
Dubuque is not a city which could be considered wealthy and elite. Local residents are not looking to increase the number of people who are dependent on government services for their daily living needs. Instead, Dubuque (like our other river cities) is struggling to revive its economic base, keep its young people from moving away, and provide for the needs of those who currently live there, who vote there, and who pay taxes there, to whom they already have an obligation.
The elected officials responsible for our Iowa towns must take note. Because they took the federal government’s money, Dubuque is now controlled by HUD and has become a part of Chicago. It cannot be said too often: if you take their money, you play by their rules. Their rules are not pretty. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Public Interest Institute. They are brought to you in the interest of a better informed citizenry. Deborah D. Thornton, Research Analyst, Public Interest Institute, 600 North Jackson Street, Mount Pleasant, IA 52641-1328. Ph: 319-385-3462, Web site: www.LimitedGovernment.org. Contact her at Public.Interest.Institute@LimitedGovernment.org.