- Associated Press - Monday, April 29, 2019

Des Moines Register. April 25, 2019

Polk County needs more affordable housing. Hear that, Urbandale?

Iowa has about 1.24 million households. Nearly 360,000 of them - roughly one-third - are renters. And rent is not cheap.

An Iowan earning minimum wage would need to work 83 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom rental home in this state, according to a 2018 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. In Polk County, where there are 60,000 rental households, having a two-bedroom roof over your head would require 93 hours of work weekly to avoid spending more than 30% of income on housing.

Holding more than two full-time jobs is virtually impossible for Iowans with children. And even if you can swing the rental cost, good luck finding a place.

For every 100 households in central Iowa needing affordable housing, there are only 40 affordable and available rentals, according to a March study from the Polk County Housing Trust Fund in partnership with the national coalition. To close the gap, an additional 11,848 homes would be required.

But that additional housing has no chance of coming about if cities don’t welcome it. Which is what makes the recent actions of Urbandale leaders so painful.

They derailed a project to build a 43-unit apartment complex on an empty lot near Merle Hay Mall. The $9 million development would offer housing to families earning less than $50,000 annually and accept tenants using federal housing assistance vouchers.

The location was not zoned for apartments - something elected officials could have addressed if they had really wanted to. Yet they voted against rezoning the property.

Housing advocates are hoping Urbandale will reverse course. At a Tuesday City Council meeting, an attorney representing Merle Hay Mall, which owns the vacant parking lot where the development is planned and supports the project, told members they have the authority to approve the rezoning. Yet the council would need to act within days to prevent the loss of $7.5 million in tax credits to the developer.

The location, directly southwest of the mall, is ideal because of proximity to jobs, public transportation and shopping.

“We need affordable housing. We need it in Polk County and we need it in Urbandale,” Anawim Housing President Russ Frazier said. Though the organization has occasionally faced opposition to new projects, Frazier said the group’s developments are usually supported and have been by cities including Sioux City, Cedar Rapids, Ottumwa and Des Moines.

Eric Burmeister, executive director of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, called Urbandale’s refusal to rezone thus far “unfortunate.”

The city has “a stated position they want to increase the number of affordable homes in their community,” he told an editorial writer. “Now when an opportunity becomes available for them to do that, and frankly to do it at no cost to the community, to begin to nitpick the project just to me doesn’t make sense.”

There is not only no cost to the city; the development would generate thousands in property tax revenue.

Urbandale Mayor Bob Andeweg said the city supports affordable housing but it does not believe the project site is appropriate. “We were cast in the light that we’re against affordable housing when that’s the furthest from the truth,” he said.

But this is also the truth: The suburb has the fewest affordable housing units of any Iowa city with more than 20,000 residents, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Its only project was built in 1996.

Tom Gayman, one of two city council members who voted “no,” said the project is too big for the site and would not fit into the surrounding character of the area.

The character of the area? Is he serious?

That particular expanse of concrete sits adjacent to the now closed Younkers store in a mall that has also recently seen the closure of Sears and Old Chicago Pizza. The area desperately needs residents, shoppers, workers and development.

The apartment complex could deliver all that to Urbandale - as well as more affordable housing in the metro area.

But it won’t happen unless the city makes less affluent residents a real priority.


Quad City Times. April 17, 2019.

Gov. Reynolds, legalizing sports betting is a bad deal for Iowa

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has an opportunity to prevent a lot of heartache for many people.

The Legislature has sent her a bill that would legalize sports betting in the state.

Reynolds hasn’t said if she’ll sign it.

We urge a veto.

Making sports betting legal in Iowa will just make it easier for more people to fall into the trap of gambling addiction. The end results of that will be bankruptcies, lost jobs, divorces and all kinds of other personal turmoil.

Why should we in Iowa enact a law that makes it easier for all of that to happen?

Already, a portion of Iowa’s population is suffering from the effects of gambling addiction. There is a hotline, 1-800-BETS-OFF, that Iowans can call for help with problem gambling. In 2000, the company that operated the hotline received 300 to 400 crisis calls a month.

That company, Consumer Credit of Des Moines, has performed debt counseling for more than 150,000 people in the past 30 years. According to Tom Coates, the executive director and co-founder of the company, between 4 and 10 percent of those people were problem gamblers.

Yes, we know that sports betting happens illegally right now. But making it legal, and thus more accessible, makes no sense considering the havoc this kind of wagering can cause.

Then there’s a possibility that newly legalized sports wagering will generate new interest in the practice and actually drive more business to illegal bookmaking operations.

Casinos that would accommodate the new sports betting would pay a 6.75 percent tax on their profits from sports betting.

That’s estimated to generate $2 million to $4 million annually for the state, with the first $300,000 going to help pay for gambling treatment programs.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission will hire three new employees to oversee the sports betting.

It’s not clear where the rest of that revenue will go.

Does it matter? The fact is, the extra $2 million to $4 million isn’t worth it.

Let’s put it more bluntly: You can’t buy solutions to addiction. Even if more than $300,000 would be allocated for the treatment of gambling addiction, the bargain is a bad one because money isn’t a cure.

Legalizing sports betting would create a problem that everyone is betting can pay for its own fix.

Gov. Reynolds, that’s a bad deal for Iowa.


Dubuque Telegraph Herald. April 26, 2019

Lawmakers shouldn’t tamper with AG’s role

If Iowans take issue with the performance of the state attorney general, there is a ready-made solution to address the problem: They can vote him out.

That’s the appropriate response when citizens are displeased with actions taken by an elected official. Changing the powers and duties of the office for political reasons would not be an appropriate response. Yet that is exactly what the Iowa Legislature is attempting to do.

On Tuesday, the Iowa House voted, 54-45, to strip Attorney General Tom Miller of his powers. Tucked into a budget bill was a provision that would effectively require Miller, a Democrat, to ask permission before joining out-of-state lawsuits.

Though a majority of Republicans supported the measure, Rep. Gary Worthan, of Storm Lake, was the only one to speak in favor of the change, noting: “We have an attorney general who may have overstepped somewhat on some actions.”

Fairly tepid criticism from a single lawmaker for such a sweeping change.

Joining in lawsuits when the citizens of the state have a stake in the outcome is some of the meat and potatoes of the attorney general’s office. Iowa has joined consumer protection lawsuits - such as suing Big Tobacco - that have brought billions of dollars into the state.

The lawsuits that prompted this legislation though, are the suits against the Trump administration. That’s where the “somewhat” of an overstep “may have” occurred.

Why did Iowa’s attorney general feel the need to bring the state into those lawsuits? Because it was in the best interest of Iowans. One suit was challenging the repeal of net neutrality, which could have a devastating impact on internet access in rural areas - which is bad for Iowa.

Another was a lawsuit brought against the Department of Education for reversing a program to erase federal student loan debt for students defrauded by for-profit colleges - which was bad for young Iowans.

One more lawsuit was joining multiple other states in upholding the part of the Affordable Care Act that protects people with pre-existing conditions - also pretty important to Iowans.

Yet House Republicans suggest the Legislature would be better equipped to make decisions on when to join in a multi-state lawsuit.

Here’s the thing about a citizen legislature: They are, for the most part, not lawyers. The State of Iowa has long been proud to have a mixture of farmers and teachers and doctors and business owners - people from all walks of life - serving in the Legislature. Therefore, citizen legislatures rely on the expertise of the state attorney general’s office when it comes to matters of law. Legislators have their role to fill, but they should not expect to weigh in on matters of law when they are not qualified to make those decisions.

Miller, on the other hand, could not be more qualified. A Dubuque native, Miller was first elected Iowa’s attorney general when Jimmy Carter was president, and he’s been reelected 10 times. He’s the longest serving attorney general in the country. Just last November, Republicans didn’t even bother to put up a candidate to run against him.

Instead, Republican lawmakers have opted to eviscerate the office of the attorney general to render Miller ineffective. Were it to pass, Miller would become the only AG in the country faced with such limited power.

We understand how politics works, and that sometimes lawmakers might “somewhat overstep in some cases,” to borrow a phrase. But this slashing of the attorney general’s authority is a complete power grab and must be halted. One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to see this proposed law would be ill-conceived.


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