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Bettendorf's rent prices the highest in the Quad-Cities
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Bettendorf's rent prices the highest in the Quad-Cities

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Bettendorf asked the developer of Bridges Lofts to build apartments with luxury amenities, like a pool and large balconies.

Want to rent in Bettendorf? It'll cost you. 

Bettendorf’s median gross rent prices are the highest in the Quad-Cities at $914 per month, according to an ongoing Quad-City Times and Moline Dispatch-Argus analysis of rental markets in the metro. (By comparison, Davenport is second-highest at $771 per month.)

As new construction soars, especially in north Bettendorf, economists and housing experts say the city would be better served if it fostered more residences for people with lower incomes, many of whom work in Bettendorf but can't afford to live there. 

Bettendorfers need to make $20 an hour to avoid residential cost burdens — paying more than 30% of monthly income toward rent. Residents earning minimum wage in Iowa would spend 79% of their income on rent in Bettendorf. 

Nevertheless, the number of low-cost occupied apartments in Bettendorf has decreased in the past decade, while apartments priced over $1,000 increased by 996, according to census data.

Apartment complexes like the recently constructed Bridges Lofts, at the end of the new Interstate 74 bridge, reflect increasing rent prices, with the smallest 422-square-foot apartment priced at $800 a month. Jeff Reiter, economic development director of Bettendorf, worked with Frank Levy, president of Newbury Living, to develop the Bridges Lofts in order to attract residents who would “activate downtown.”

“That's true for people of all income classes,” Levy said, “but it's more true for affluent people, for obvious reasons.”

Reiter said like other Bettendorf redevelopment efforts, he had no specific income range in mind while developing the apartments.

But Levy, who has constructed both subsidized affordable housing and market-rate housing in the Quad-Cities, said Bettendorf offered substantial incentives to produce apartments with luxury amenities, like a pool and large balconies, on the lot of the former Twin Bridges Motor Inn, a motel that posed safety concerns.

“The city was driving the goal,” Levy said. “We knew that it was a fast-growing, economically vital town with a lot of people who could afford to pay for attractive apartments.”

Workforce Affordable Housing in Bettendorf

Leslie Kilgannon, director of the QC Housing Cluster, said all of the Quad-Cities were experiencing increasing rent prices coupled with an affordable housing crisis.

“Market rate is a challenge if the wages aren't keeping up,” Kilgannon said. “Market rate isn't always affordable for what people would think of as middle class.”

Even though Bettendorf's median household income is tops in the Quad-Cities at $82,153, the city needs more housing options — not just single-family homes or high-end rentals, according to Jane Rongerude, a professor of community planning at Iowa State University.

Diverse housing structures, a range of apartments, multiplexes and single-family homes, with a range of rent prices, increases the likelihood residents will find housing at their price level. 

“We need to move away from the exclusionary zoning, where we're only zoning for high-end, single-family homes,” Rongerude said. 

Bettendorf’s citywide residential land-use goals dedicate 65% of land be used toward single-family homes, according to the city’s zoning ordinance. The remaining land would be developed into townhouses and apartments, which may offer more affordable housing for people with lower salaries.

Although housing in Iowa, and the Quad-Cities, is more affordable than other areas of the country, the wages are also lower, according to Rongerude. Individuals with lower salaries are the ones pushed out by the increasing market-rate prices.

“So many of the jobs where people are making lower salaries are jobs that we absolutely depend on for our cities to run well,” Rongerude said. “There's that workforce housing or the workforce population that people talk about.”

No designated low-income subsidized housing for all ages

Unless you’re a senior or a person with a disability, you will not be find subsidized low-income designated housing in Bettendorf.

A review of the listings on Iowa Housing Search — the website officials recommend when searching for low-income housing in Iowa — showed six income-restricted complexes. But all developments are restricted to senior citizens or people with disabilities.

Unlike Davenport, Bettendorf does not have designated low-income apartment complexes for all ages. Despite having Section 8 vouchers accepted in the city, not having dedicated complexes makes housing less accessible because voucher recipients are competing with the general population for rentals.

When cities put units and buildings in place for low-income subsidized housing, you are preserving a space for lower-income citizens to join the community and can target specific subsidies, according to Rongerude.

“But that's also why they're controversial because there's a lot of stereotypes associated with low-income people,” Rongerude said.

The misconception that low-income housing lowers property values is common, Rongerude said, but it is possible to create low-income housing that blends with the community.

Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher

It’s legal for Iowa landlords to reject prospective residents if they are planning to rent with a Section 8 voucher.

Bettendorf has 232 families currently using vouchers toward rental assistance.

Otavio Bartalotti, who studies economic mobility at Iowa State University, said although, in theory, vouchers enable families to move to wealthier areas with increased access to resources, it typically doesn’t work out that way.

“A lot of times those vouchers are not accepted by the landlords and make people jump through too many hoops to be able to use vouchers in higher-rent areas,” Bartalotti said.

Even if residents are able to get off of lengthy waiting lists and receive vouchers, there is a ceiling rent set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for voucher recipients. If there aren’t enough workforce lower-cost apartments in a city, it prevents them from moving into the community with their voucher.

“You have to have the units,” Rongerude said. “If you don't have the units, it doesn't do you any good.”

A lack of available affordable units in wealthier areas is one reason why voucher recipients are forced to stay in areas considered poor already, according to Bartalotti, which negates the impact of the vouchers. If there are affordable units in the area, it is most likely that non-voucher recipients will have access to rent them because of a landlord’s discretion and scarcity of affordable housing.

The use of vouchers is racialized in Iowa, as some majority-white communities do not want people of color from urban communities to come to their cities because of racist stereotypes, according to Rongerude. This limits the options for voucher recipients of color and keeps them in higher poverty areas.

Economic mobility and housing

Residents of lower socioeconomic status moving into wealthier areas with increased access to resources, like Bettendorf, helps break the cycle of poverty, according to Rongerude and Bartalotti. 

When essential workers, who typically have lower-paying jobs, live closer to where they work, they are more dependable and business services are more reliable to the community, according to Rongerude.

“The people themselves want to be dependable,” she said.

Areas with higher incomes, like Bettendorf, have better access to resources, like grocery stores. More easily accessible resources can help people with low-incomes raise their socioeconomic status, according to Bartalotti.

With economic diversification comes racial and ethnic diversity, according to the Tri-Cities Housing Assessment that reports the majority of citizens who would qualify for subsidized housing programs in the Quad-Cities are residents of color.

Research shows that there are benefits to diverse communities, especially when it comes to decision and policy making, according to Bartalotti.

“But in general, it's probably a plus for everybody,” Bartalotti said.

The housing instability seen throughout the pandemic proves the importance of enacting supportive housing policies in the Quad-Cities, according to Kilgannon.

“Homelessness really can impact anyone if given the circumstance,” Kilgannon said. “There are no borders or boundaries around any city in our community where we will be seeing those kinds of situations.”


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