Iowa lawmakers trade barbs over affordable housing legislation

By: - February 25, 2021 6:23 pm

Members of Congress are mulling how to speed up renters assistance in areas where it continues to lag. (Creative Commons photo via Pxhere)

Iowa cities could not ban housing discrimination based on a tenant’s use of federal housing vouchers under legislation advanced by a House committee Thursday.

House Study Bill 171, and a similar bill in the Senate, would negate city ordinances in Des Moines, Iowa City and Marion that ban discrimination by landlords based on income source. The measure would prevent similar local laws in the future. 

“I think most landlords feel like they want to be able to have the freedom to decide whether they want to get involved with the federal government,” said Rep. Dave Deyoe, R-Nevada, who managed the bill.

The bill now refers only to Section 8 certificates. Previous versions allowed landlords to turn away other forms of public assistance as well. 

Landlords have maintained it should be their decision whether to take Section 8 certificates, which often are used by low-income families, veterans and people with disabilities. Critics of the legislation have suggested some landlords would use the source of income to discriminate against families based on their race or other factors not allowed by law. They also called the bill an affront to local control.

The Republican majority defeated an amendment offered by Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, that would have prevented landlords from evicting current apartment residents who use the vouchers for at least part of their payment. Deyoe said the amendment could be considered on the floor of the House later. 

Hunter had a brief testy exchange with Deyoe, not long after saying he hoped to work with Deyoe to push the defeated amendment in the full House.

When Deyoe said some landlords may have had a bad experience with the federal programs and would rather not participate, Hunter replied, “In other words, some landlords don’t want to deal with poor people.”

“It seems to me that’s a little insulting …,” Deyoe said. 

“I’m not asking a question,” Hunter responded as Deyoe started to exchange comments in a raised voice. Committee chairwoman Jane Bloomingdale, R-Northwood, rapped her gavel and yelled, “Hey!” The discourse became quieter.

Rep. Jo Oldson, D-Des Moines, also opposed the bill. “We’re kind of attacking our most vulnerable people with this bill,” she said. 

Later, Oldson added: “I see this as an attack on local control. We kind of continue to peck away at local control. We somehow have this sense that we can do better than our local elected people do. And I find that rather offensive.”

Rep. Charles Isenhart, D-Dubuque, questioned whether the bill meshes with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ wide-ranging bill to increase affordable housing. “I think there’s a big disconnect between what we’re doing today and what the governor and others are trying to do to address affordable housing in this state,” Isenhart said. 

Deyoe said the governor wants to encourage developers to build “all kinds of housing,” by offering grants and other incentives.

Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, asked for a minority impact statement on the bill, which Bloomingdale noted. 

In his closing remarks, Deyoe said he doesn’t decide his stance based on the positions of interest groups. He repeated his willingness to work on amendments.

“It’s a property rights issue, also,” Deyoe added.

The bill was approved by the House Local Government Committee, 11 to 6. 

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.

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