The distance from Chicago to Dubuque, or Clinton, or Davenport is around 200 miles. It’s almost 250 from Burlington. This is a drive of four to five hours, even with no traffic. Yet recent and proposed actions by the federal government make Eastern Iowa part of the “greater-Chicago area.”
The expanding federal nanny state has decided that our river towns, 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 recruiting military veterans, active retirees, or young graduates, who can remain home, start businesses, begin families, and 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 — including ease of moving for jobs, increased cost controls to help manage expenses, and no responsibility for maintenance. As of 2012, 35 percent, or one in three American households, rent, with the most growth in the 30 to 39-year-old age group. There has been an increase in renting among those over age 70, for similar reasons. In addition, half of all renters are people with incomes under $30,000 a year. Many of these people also have children, whether as a single parent or as a couple.
Unfortunately, rental properties in the last few years have not kept up with demand, resulting in “lower vacancies, higher rents, and higher (quality) construction.” As a result, by 2011, 50 percent of renters were considered housing burdened, paying over 30 percent of their income for housing. Of these over half are “severely” burdened; paying over 50 percent of their income. Increased local regulatory and zoning requirements, such as those in Iowa City on the number of residents per bedroom, have contributed to both the destruction of low-income rentals and a lack of new units.
As a result, many people turn 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) 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). The general requirement for Section 8 is that annual income must not exceed 50 percent of the median income for the specific area. Further, 75 percent of the vouchers must be given to people with incomes less than 30 percent of the median.
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 – proposed a year ago – local control of Section 8 will be eliminated. According to the press release, “HUD will provide data for every neighborhood … in the country, detailing the access African American, Latino, Asian, and others … have to local assets, including schools, jobs, transportation, … 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.
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 negative and unintended result of the HUD micromanagement of the Section 8 program in Dubuque is already beginning. The list of eligible applicants is expected to close this summer, and the wait time could be two years or more. There is not enough money to fund the required number of vouchers. The administrative burden is significant and Dubuque is required to follow HUD’s every direction for the next five years or more.
The elected officials responsible for our Iowa towns, including those such as Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and Mount Pleasant – and those even further west – must take note. Once they lose local control of housing, then schools, zoning, transportation, the environment, and business location will be next. The central planners intend to use “big data” to force every region to meet nationally determined standards for every aspect of our communities. These regions will be directed by unelected governing boards that do not report to voters and do not even have to be contiguous.
Because they took the federal government’s money, Dubuque is now controlled by HUD and has become a part of Chicago. If our local governments keep taking the central planners’ taxpayer-provided money, ever more of Iowa will be forced to be just like Chicago, whether you live 200, 250, 350, or even 450 miles away.
 “America’s Rental Housing, Evolving Markets and Needs,” Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, 201, pp. 1-3, <http://www.jchs.harvard.edu/sites/jchs.harvard.edu/files/jchs_americas_rental_housing_2013_1_0.pdf> accessed on April 11, 2015.
 Ibid., pp. 5-6.
 17-5-21 (C2): Title 24 of the Code of Federal Regulations; Sections 882.109(a) Through (I); “Housing Quality Standards,” accessed on April 16, 2015.
 “Housing Choice Vouchers Fact Sheet,” 2014 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, <http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/housing_choice_voucher_program_section_8> accessed on March 2, 2015.
 “HUD Publishes New Proposed Rule on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing,” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD No.13-110, July 19, 2013, <http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/press/press_releases_media_advisories/2013/HUDNo.13-110> accessed on March 2, 2015.
 Elena Gaona, “HUD and City of Dubuque, Iowa Settle Allegations of Discrimination Against African Americans,” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD No 14-034, April 15, 2014, accessed February 12, 2015.
 Thomas Barton, “Updated: Dubuque to Consider Closing Waiting List for Federal Housing Vouchers,” Dubuque Telegraph Herald, April 26, 2015, <http://www.thonline.com/mobile_new/news/article_8cbdf522-ea8b-11e4-9d53-539012436f29.html> accessed on April 26, 2015.
Republished by permission from INSTITUTE BRIEF, a publication of Public Interest Institute.
She holds an MBA from the University of Maryland, and a BA degree from Indiana University with a double major in Political Science and Journalism.