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‘This is a forgotten land’: Davenport renters forced to vacate substandard housing confront city officials

By Tom Barton

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    DAVENPORT, Iowa (Quad-City Times) — For nearly two years, Davenport renters have lived in apartment buildings infested with mold, mildew and bed bugs, with leaking roofs and plumbing, missing or inoperable smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, exposed wiring and “questionable” gas-fired furnaces.

City officials say they’ve performed numerous inspections, ordered repairs and issued fines to no avail.

Now, conditions have deteriorated to the point approximately 70 low- to moderate-income households — many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, are elderly or have a disability and rely on government assistance and benefits — face having to find a new roof over their head, possibly within two weeks, amid an affordable-housing crisis.

“This is a forgotten land,” 37-year-old Lashina Bea said while standing outside her apartment in the Crestwood Apartment complex, next to a building with a large, visible section of roof missing.

Bea lives with her elderly mother, who suffers from a chronic respiratory disease.

“People come out here because there’s no other place for them to go,” Bea said.

Tenants of Crestwood Apartments on E. 37th Street, behind Dahl Ford Davenport on East Kimberly Road, held a public forum Monday to voice their frustrations and concerns and asks questions of city and county officials about available relocation assistance and to plead for additional time to find new housing.

In November, city of Davenport rental inspectors ordered Crestwood Apartments Cooperative of Forest Lake, Minn., to make extensive repairs to the complex to correct a lengthy list of code violations dating back to the fall of 2019, according to city records.

Multiple follow-up inspections to verify repairs had been completed were canceled by the property owner or their representatives, according to city records. A local property manager told a city inspector he did not have the resources to make the repairs, Rich Oswald, director of neighborhood services for the city of Davenport, previously told the Quad-City Times.

On May 27, the city issued a 60-day notice for the rental complex to make repairs or vacate the 80 apartment units.

Management then posted letters on tenants’ doors the following month informing them that he property owner had put the leased premises up for sale. As a result their leases were being terminated and tenants had to relocate by Aug. 1. Failure to do so “could result in legal proceeding to regain possession of the leased premises, which in turn may incur attorney cost and court fees that you could be held responsible for,” the letter reads.

A representative for the property management company, Headway Management, LLC, reached by phone Monday said the company was “working internally to have this attended to in immediate fashion and the properties to not be shut down.” The company official declined to provide their name and further comment.

The city will perform a follow-up inspection scheduled for 9 a.m. on Aug. 2, at which time all violations “shall be corrected,” or the buildings condemned by the city and ordered vacated.

Mayor Mike Matson said he “is not confident” repairs will be made to allow residents to remain.

“I’m not going to lie to you, because of the past history, I don’t expect it to go well,” Matson said, adding should the city condemn the buildings, tenants would likely be given until the middle of the month to relocate. “There will be a movement to take these apartments (off the market) so people can’t live in them, because they’re unhealthy, they’re unsafe. I agree with you 100%. And our job is to try to push (owners to make repairs) and inspect them to do that, because we don’t own them. … We are trying to work through this with (the owner).”

Matson and Alderman Joseph Miller, Ward 7, who represents the area, helped secure a one-month extension for another group of Davenport renters along East 35th Street residents who also face being displaced after being notified that the property had been sold and the new owners would not be renewing their leases, giving them until Aug. 31 to relocate. Crestwood Apartments residents requested a 60- to 90-day extension.

Matson and Scott County Supervisor Ken Croken, who attended the forum, said they were optimistic about getting more time for Crestwood Apartment residents.

“But what concerns me is health and safety,” Croken said. “I don’t want to extend your time in an apartment that is unsafe for you to live in. Although, living on the streets isn’t so safe either, right?”

In the meantime, the Salvation Army is providing eligible renters up to $2,000 in rental assistance for a deposit and up to three month’s rent, using roughly $600,000 in federal block grant dollars received by the city through the CARES Act. Additionally, Scott County is working to provide tenants with one month’s rent, according to city and county officials.

Iowa Legal Aid as well is providing free legal services, and plans to meet with city officials Tuesday to receive more information and formulate a legal strategy to assist tenants.

A total of 46 households from Crestwood have completed intake forms detailing the costs incurred due to their displacement and having to find new homes, Matson said. Of those, 13 have been approved, but only eight households have finished the final paperwork, Matson said.

Some residents, though, said it’s been a difficult task to get approved for assistance.

Matson assured he would work with residents to help them through the process and help expedite their request for assistance.

But even with assistance, some residents said they struggle to find safe, decent, affordable rental housing.

Though wages have increased, household incomes across the Quad-Cities have not kept pace with increasing rental costs, creating a housing crisis impacting more than 11,000 residents unable to reasonably afford a roof over their head, according to the Quad Cities Housing Cluster. The consortium of for-profit and nonprofit housing service provides, lenders and developers across, unveiled a 10-year plan last fall seeking to address a gap of 6,645 affordable units for extremely low-income households earning 30% or less of area median income, or no more than $21,810 annually.

Residents urged the city to use a portion of the nearly $41 million Davenport is expected to receive in federal COVID-19 relief funds through the American Rescue Plan Act for the creation of additional affordable housing.

Aldermen will meet Wednesday to consider approval of a $43 million spending plan that includes $600,000 for regional transitional housing.

Matson, though, stressed a final decision has not been made on how to use the federal funds, and foresees council support to provide funding to the Housing Cluster’s plan to create more affordable housing units.

“We have to work on affordable housing, absolutely,” he said after the forum. “We’re willing to provide funding, hundreds of thousands of dollars to this issue.”

Croken pledged to push fellow supervisors to use a portion of the $33 million in federal recuse dollars earmarked for Scott County to put toward affordable housing.

“You have been treated shamefully, and I wish there was more we could do about it,” Croken said. “We are deeply concerned and try to do everything we possibly can. On behalf of the community, I apologize this has gone on so long. But, we are where we are. … Let’s get everyone here safe and sound somewhere, and not lose our momentum and continue to work together for a long-term solution.”

Miller and Davenport Alderman JJ Condon, at-large, also attended Monday’s forum with renters.

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