Iowa Housing Partnership Offers New Voice of Advocacy

Published by Teresa Garcia on Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Journal cover thumb March 2019

There’s a new voice advocating for affordable housing in the Hawkeye state: the Iowa Housing Partnership. 

Formed as a nonprofit in September 2018, the group aims to improve the quality and availability of affordable housing in Iowa by working with communities and local, state and federal governments. 

The idea for the Iowa Housing Partnership started from a discussion among housing stakeholders about difficulties of developing affordable housing in Iowa. The conversation included tax credit syndicators, a developer and a housing trust fund representative.

“From that it was decided to see if an advocacy group was needed, as it was felt that all affordable housing advocates need a singular voice, one who will be there for discussion purposes,” said Dan Garrett, vice president of originations for syndicator WNC, a founding member of the Iowa Housing Partnership. “We got together with people to see if this was a good idea. We were hoping for 20 people and 50 showed up.” 

The answer was clear: Housing advocates agreed on the urgency of addressing Iowa’s affordable housing shortage, and they were eager to do it together. 

To Garrett, this unified front is what was previously lacking in Iowa. “Everyone was going in their own lane when people need to walk hand in hand,” said Garrett. “The analogy I use is, when you walk down the street with your significant other, do you walk in front of them or behind them? No, you walk next to them or else it’s not going to work, and it’s the same with affordable housing. Everyone has to work together.”

The founding members drafted organizing documents and worked on building up the group’s membership. Iowa Housing Partnership’s first official meeting in September 2018 had 133 attendees, and the group now has more than 200 individuals and companies on its growing mailing list.

“I think the overwhelming response to the Iowa Housing Partnership speaks volumes about the need and desire to find innovative and lasting solutions to Iowa’s affordable housing shortage,” said Jeff Nishita, CPA and partner at Novogradac, a member organization of the Iowa Housing Partnership. “The group combines the efforts of public and private partners to increase affordable housing access throughout Iowa, from the state’s rural communities to its bigger cities.”

The Iowa Housing Partnership knows that the state’s housing needs aren’t going to fix themselves. Decisive and concerted efforts are needed. Job opportunities in cities such as Des Moines have driven up the demand and cost of housing. Garrett said Des Moines adds 30 people a day because of attractive employment opportunities. That makes the city a hot market for market-rate housing development, but affordable housing gets left behind. “We have 3,000 units coming online, but not one of them is affordable,” said Garrett. “If you want a vibrant community, you’ve got to have affordable housing as part of that equation.”

Eric Burmeister, executive director of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, agrees. The Polk County Housing Trust Fund is a founding member of the Iowa Housing Partnership and serves the Des Moines metropolitan area through affordable housing advocacy, education and the administration of a $2.5 million local trust fund.

“The fact is we’re not building enough housing at any price point to satisfy the increased demand and that’s causing increasing prices,” said Burmeister. “At the same time, like almost every other fast-growing area in the country, while we’re seeing some upward pressure on wages, we’re not seeing enough to offset the increase in housing, so people are falling further behind.”

“Out of Reach Iowa,” a 2018 report released by the Iowa Housing Partnership with data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, found that 140,000 households or 40 percent of all Iowa renters are housing-cost burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent. The report found that the average Iowan renter would have to pay $1,600 more than they can afford each year to pay for a two-bedroom apartment. 

This is where Iowa Housing Partnership steps in, to help facilitate policy and legislation that can provide low- and moderate-income households with quality housing they can afford. 

“The purpose of the Iowa Housing Partnership, or any housing advocacy as I see it, is to encourage good planning and execution,” said Burmeister. Part of Iowa Housing Partnership’s vision for good planning and execution is understanding the unique housing challenges of each community, particularly the distinction between rural and urban housing needs in Iowa. Burmeister said that while there’s housing stock available in rural areas, it tends to be older and dilapidated. Burmeister said housing needs in rural Iowa include affordable senior housing and smaller housing for families that want to downsize. Meanwhile, urban areas in Iowa are short on all types of housing across the board.

Garrett sees the Iowa Housing Partnership as a way to educate local governments and communities about the importance of affordable housing and the availability of various funding tools, such as the competitive 9 percent low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC), the 4 percent LIHTC, the state housing trust fund and more. 

Among its 2019 state policy goals, the Iowa Housing Partnership supports increasing funding for the state housing trust fund, making certain improvements to the Iowa Finance Authority’s annual LIHTC qualified allocation plan and expanding and protecting the workforce housing tax credits and state historic tax credit (HTC). 

The Iowa Housing Partnership also supports creating new state tax credit programs to make Iowa more competitive with neighboring states that offer similar incentives. For example, Nebraska, Missouri and Illinois offer a state LIHTC while Wisconsin offers a state low-income rural housing tax credit. 

Iowa Housing Partnership may face a significant challenge this year to defend the state’s affordable housing incentives. Iowa legislators have indicated interest in reviewing all of the state’s tax credit programs. Although Iowa does not have a state LIHTC, there are other state incentives in danger that are paired with affordable housing funding resources, such as the state HTC. “We can prove that the incentives can more than pay for themselves,” said Burmeister.

Iowa Housing Partnership also has federal policy goals, which include increased funding for affordable housing through initiatives that include the federal LIHTC, the Community Development Block Grant, HOME Investment Partnerships program, the National Housing Trust Fund, Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers and more. 

The Iowa Housing Partnership looks forward to working with local, state and federal entities to find meaningful affordable housing solutions. “We all know there’s an affordable housing problem and there needs to be a [unified] voice in the state,” said Garrett. “Let’s get together and walk hand in hand down this road.”