Posted February 25, 2013 by the Polk County Housing Trust Fund

Former Des Moines mayor and past chairman, president and CEO of Pioneer Hi-Bred Tom Urban now serves as co-chair of the Urban Core Initiative of Capital Crossroads. What does he see as critical to revitalizing Des Moines’ urban core?  His recently published Opinion Editorial in the Des Moines Register included a headline that says it all –

Housing is critical to revitalizing Des Moines’ urban core

Within the urban core of Des Moines, there are 700 affordable apartments supported by project-based Section 8 funding. These apartments provide housing to the elderly, persons with disabilities and families with children.

They are central to the Capital Crossroads initiative strategy to revitalize Des Moines. Our leaders in Washington, D.C., must not make penny-wise and pound-foolish decisions that put these apartments at risk.

And yet we face that possibility. If Congress doesn’t reach agreement on deficit reduction by March 1, across-the-board spending cuts will decimate funding for Section 8 housing. Thankfully, we have Rep. Tom Latham, R-Ia., who can help prevent that outcome. He chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for this housing and is in a unique position to assist our residents.

The Capital Crossroads initiative now is working to address the challenges that threaten the long-term growth and stability of Des Moines. Our housing stock is a huge “plus” that we can leverage. Under Section 8, private landlords and nonprofit organizations agree to provide affordable apartments to low-income residents in return for a government contract to pay part of their rent. The residents pay 30 percent of their income toward the rent.

Permanent, quality housing is often the starting point for community change and economic growth. It offers more than a roof over someone’s head. The rehabilitation of rental housing creates desperately needed construction jobs, creates customers for local stores, provides millions of dollars in annual property tax revenue to local communities and supports local jobs.

According to HUD, project-based Section 8 housing provides over $450 million to local communities in property taxes and is responsible for creating 100,000 jobs annually. Senior and other housing are a critical part of any community’s healthy housing mix, ensuring job creation, diversity, opportunity and a labor force for essential community services.

Take, for example,the Homes of Oakridge, which recently completed a $25 million renovation that encompassed all of its apartments. By reconfiguring and redesigning the laundry facilities, Oakridge created four- and five-bedroom family apartments and provided in-unit washers and dryers for every apartment. In addition, Oakridge Neighborhood provides extensive supportive services to tenants, including child care, after-school education and a jobs program.

Oakridge Neighborhood has demonstrated, along with other private landlords, its commitment to the stewardship of Section 8 apartments. But we must be able to rely on stable federal assistance to ensure the long-term availability of housing for Des Moines’ low-income residents. Without these funds, communities like Oakridge will not be able to undertake rehabilitation projects that are critical to revitalizing the urban core.

Beyond Des Moines, proposed cuts to project-based Section 8 funding would affect 1.1 million households nationwide. More than 60 percent of those apartments are home to elderly or disabled Americans.

We all recognize the need for our legislators to make tough decisions regarding the federal budget. I am not arguing against deficit reduction. As a former mayor, I know there are tough spending decisions to be made. But random, across-the-board cuts that jeopardize Des Moines’ revitalization are not the answer.