The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Some say ‘no vouchers next to me;’ city official reminds that voucher safety net gives 2,453 ‘very low-income’ decent housing

In City Hall on March 29, 2009 at 10:05 am

It’s easy to paint a less-than-pretty picture of the poor.

Much of that has gone on in recent months in and around City Hall as the owners of single-family homes and condominiums have turned out to object to proposals to build new “affordable” housing developments with substantial help from federal tax incentives to replace housing lost to the June 2008 flood.

One objecting neighbor who referred to “those” people didn’t win fans among some on the City Planning Commission.
The developers and supporters of the affordable projects can sound kind of similar. They spend much time noting that affordable housing is really “work force” housing and that people who live in those rental units typically have jobs.

Affordable housing is different, the proponents take pains to point out, than the federal government’s housing “voucher” program.

It is different. But sometimes, one objecting neighbor pointed out at a recent Planning Commission meeting, managers of affordable housing complexes let those with vouchers rent from them. …

Once a year, Scott Seibert, the city’s housing services manager, comes before the City Council to talk about the voucher program as required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Seibert was on hand last Wednesday evening to provide the latest update on the federal program that he said provides a vital assist to allow very low-income families, the elderly and the disabled to rent decent, private-market housing.

At the same time, the Cedar Rapids voucher program provides $4.4 million a year in rent assistance payments that go to the metro area’s landlords, he noted to the council.

Seibert reported:

Currently, 1,055 households and 2,453 people in them currently are living in rental property using vouchers in Cedar Rapids, the metro area and elsewhere in Linn and Benton counties.

Eighty percent of the heads of those households are female (down from 86 percent a year ago); 45 percent of the households consist of a single person, some of whom are elderly or disabled; 37 percent of the households have someone bringing home income; and 89.6 percent have annual household income under $20,000 a year.

Those in the program pay, on average, $201 a month in rent.

The voucher program aims to de-concentrate poverty by encouraging landlords from every area of the city, metro area and Linn and Benton counties to participate in the program.

In 2008, 178 vouchers were used in southeast Cedar Rapids; 305 in northeast Cedar Rapids; 303 in southwest Cedar Rapids; 74 in northwest Cedar Rapids; 120 in Marion; and 36 in Hiawatha.

Seibert told the City Council that 155 households are participating in a part of the program called “family self-sufficiency,” which provides some assistance to help households get out of the voucher program. In the last year, 24 succeeded in moving off the voucher program, 13 others no longer need support from welfare payments and two purchased homes, Seibert reported.

One young mother in the program told the council that the voucher assistance has provided the stability she needed to finish her college studies and a disabled woman said the voucher program had been a lifesaver for her.

  1. Please note that some new projects will not be subject to property tax. Very interesting indeed.

  2. I wonder if the people objecting to voucher-supported housing and rental units have ever stopped to think about what their mortgage payment is, compared to the cost of rent at some of the places in question.

    There are plenty of neighborhoods in Cedar Rapids where mortgage payments are lower than the rent of an “affordable housing project”, even with property tax and insurance included (those items are captured in rent calculations). I don’t think that the objectors realise that “these people” could very well afford to own a home in their neighborhood, even though they choose to rent instead. The fact that the government has artificially elevated the perceived value of owning a home (through income tax deductions, etc) doesn’t change the fact that a somewhat significant percentage of “these people” could very well be home owners in the objectors’ neighborhoods, if they chose to tie themselves down to a house instead of maintain the flexibility that renting provides.

    Besides, any one of the homeowners could collect these vouchers if they decided to put their own house up for rent one day and jump through all of the hoops. Then maybe they would understand just how mentally, emotionally, and economically exhausting it can be to be a landlord in this city.

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