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Editorial: A housing crisis in the Quad-Cities

Editorial: A housing crisis in the Quad-Cities

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In the age of coronavirus, there are few things as comforting as home.

It is where we sheltered this spring when the economy was largely shut down.

It is where many of us schooled our kids.

It is where, still, many are working as we wait for the risk to pass, or at least lessen.

Unfortunately, too many people in the Quad-Cities can't count on this basic necessity of life.

As a report last month made clear, nearly 12,000 extremely low-income Quad-City households can’t reasonably afford a roof over their heads. They’re the people paying nearly a third of their income on housing costs. What’s more: Nearly 10,000 households in our community are spending at least half their incomes on housing.

This burden leaves little else for other necessities, like food, medicine, car repairs and the like.

Consider this: An affordable one-bedroom apartment for a single adult working full time and making $9 an hour, would be $468 a month, according to the Quad-City Housing Cluster. But the fair market rent for such an apartment in the Quad-Cities is $648.

Even before the pandemic, wages here weren't rising fast enough to keep up with rents. But as Leslie Kilgannon, director of the Scott County Housing Council, put it, "the appearance of an international pandemic has really laid bare some of the inequities around (affordable housing)."

The economy has improved since the shutdown, but joblessness is still far too high, while others have seen their hours cut.

The report that the housing cluster presented, called "Silos to Solutions," laid out the problem, as well as a 10-year vision to create more than 6,600 affordable housing units through new construction, rehabilitation, increased subsidies and other steps.

This plan is aimed at helping the lowest income households in the Quad-Cities. Future efforts will focus on households that are more fortunate, but still qualify as low-income.

As this report made clear, there is a housing crisis in this community. It is most acutely felt by those living it. But it's a crisis for all of us; if our community is to grow, we need adequate housing.

The cluster proposed a series of steps to tackle this problem.

Some of it, simply, comes down to money; among the recommendations is essentially a doubling in the Local Housing Trust Fund, which will require more from local governments and private sources. We believe the states of Iowa and Illinois must up their game, too.

Existing housing stock can also be stretched with a greater financial commitment to abating lead paint hazards, an area our community has struggled with recently.

Other options could mean changes in policies, like asking (or requiring) more of housing developers, educating and stabilizing at-risk households, lowering eviction rates through more effective mediation and changing zoning laws in order to encourage unique housing options.

One option in vogue these days: tiny homes. These homes vary in size, but the models we've seen range in size from 250- to 400-square feet. Such homes have been proposed in Davenport, and just days ago the director of a Detroit-based social service agency talked about the concept at a meeting in Rock Island County.

Last year, Davenport changed its zoning code to get rid of minimum structure and lot size requirements, which can be an impediment. That's good.

In Rock Island, there is a proposal to change its code to cut its minimum house size from 900 square feet to 400 square feet. The change isn't so much aimed at luring tiny homes, but a broader effort to increase the city's supply and variety of housing options over the long term.

We believe these are positive steps, but they are only part of a series of changes required to improve the area's range of housing options. Specifically whittling the deficit in affordable housing for the neediest among us means that developers, financial institutions and regulators need to think creatively, with an eye toward equity and inclusion.

One out of every eight Quad-City households has an income less than 30% of the area's median, and about two-thirds of those see half their income go to housing costs.

Think about that for a moment.

That is far too many people paying far too much to be able to afford one of life's basics.

An affordable place to live is the foundation for so many other things in life. With it, comes opportunity. Without it, the chance at a better life is often out of reach.

We're told working groups are being formed to try to move from the report toward solutions. We encourage every person, every institution, in our community to envision ways to get involved and help. The coalition is already composed of an impressive list of governments, financial institutions, foundations, neighborhood groups, social service agencies and others. But tackling this problem will take the dedication of the whole community and a commitment to chart our progress and demand more when it is lacking.

The housing cluster aptly concludes its report by saying, "with this vision now ready, the real work begins."


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