Finding affordable housing is a barrier for many central Iowans working toward achieving financial stability. As a result, many low-income residents are spending most of their income on rent and forgoing many essential needs, such as food and medical care. Many are only one crisis away from becoming homeless.

A recent OpportUNITY Summit focused on innovative solutions to increase the supply of affordable housing for the extremely low-income population (those who make less than 30% of the median income) as a key strategy to decrease poverty in central Iowa. Meeting this need will lay the foundation for more central Iowans to graduate from high school, achieve financial stability, and experience health and wellbeing.

We asked Josh Hellyer, policy and communications coordinator at the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, to share a few things everyone in our community should know about affordable housing for extremely low-income households in central Iowa. 

1. The demand for affordable housing in central Iowa is double that of available units.

There are 8,350 rental units considered affordable for extremely low-income central Iowans—about half of what is needed. Providing double the number of units currently available is not a problem easily solved by adding just a few apartment buildings, according to Josh. 

2. Most extremely low-income central Iowans are working.

88% of extremely low-income adults ages 1865 are employed, but many receive minimum wage. The supply of affordable housing has not kept pace with the growth of service-sector jobs.

3. On average, extremely low-income central Iowans spend 68% of their income on rent.

At 30% of their median wage income, an average family of four could afford $608 in monthly rent, and a family of two could afford $461. Meanwhile, an average one-bedroom apartment in central Iowa costs $788, and the average studio apartment costs $710, both of which would be cramped living for a family of four. Families spend, on average, 68% of their income on rent every month, leaving little money to cover necessities like food, medical care, and transportation. 

4. 30% of central Iowa's extremely low-income population doesn’t own a vehicle

Many need to travel from Des Moines to the suburbs to work at malls or industrial parks. Having affordable housing near their jobs or access to safe, public transportation near their homes is crucial.

5. Local communities can take steps to address these issues.

The Polk County Housing Trust Fund pays developers up to $75,000 for every unit affordable to the extremely low-income population. The current availability of funds limits the development to 1020 new units each year. 

Providing affordable housing can be an economic and community development driver. According to the Policy Focus Report by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, “inclusionary housing is one of the few proven strategies for locating affordable housing in asset-rich neighborhoods where residents are likely to benefit from access to quality schools, public services, and better jobs. Communities across the country are increasingly investing in the creation of new transit-oriented urban neighborhoods, and inclusionary housing policies are one of the only ways to ensure that these places develop in an equitable manner. Equitable development benefits not only lower-income households; integrated, inclusive, and diverse communities enhance the lives and outcomes of all residents.” 

Help us take action against poverty in Iowa. Contact United Way of Central Iowa to learn about various ways you can get involved in helping your local community, or click on the button below to learn more about our Iowa OpportUNITY Community Plan for bringing financial stability and prosperity to those who live in or near poverty.

Learn more about OpportUNITY

1. U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey Public Use Micro Sample dataset, 2011-2015 estimates
2. 2017 CBRE/Hubbell Apartment Survey
3. HUD's income limits for FY2017

Topics: Financial Stability, Essential Needs

Seth Johnson

Written by Seth Johnson

Seth Johnson is the former program director of OpportUNITY.