Creighton Cox has the Floor

PCHTF Board Members talk about Affordable Housing

Creighton Cox has the Floor

I once read that attempting to get at truth means rejecting stereotypes and clichés.  That is especially true when it comes to “Affordable Housing.”  The truth behind it – what it looks like and the renters and homeowners may surprise you.

As the leader of the Homebuilders Association of Greater Des Moines and a PCHTF Board Member I know the stigma associated with affordable housing. To many it conjures up an image of single room apartments or small shack-like houses that become run down and neglected by the people who live there, and often in an industrial or run down part of town away from “normal” housing.  That stereotype couldn’t be more wrong, and through the Polk County Housing Trust Fund Bus Tours, community leaders, housing specialists and business leaders interested in economic development can really see how wrong that stigma is.

(Personal invitation: Please join us on July 20th for the next PCHTF Bus Tour and see some amazing projects that keep our parents, grandparents and friends nearby taken care of. Some are independent living, while others full service, and in an aging Iowa population more of both are needed in all metro communities.)

If you haven’t had an opportunity to view an “affordable housing” project, take time to visit the Anawim Housing townhomes built by Hubbell Homes, or the 2010 “10 in 20” Habitat for Humanity neighborhood, assisted by many Home Builders Association members, or any new or renovated home by Home Inc., or the renovated Meredith Apartments, a 34-unit community nestled along a quiet, residential area by Community Housing Initiatives, Inc. These affordable units look like any other market rate unit, and the owners and renters take great pride in their homes and their neighborhoods. They all have truly inspiring stories and are assets to our shared communities.

On June 27, I had the opportunity to participate in Governing presents – Iowa – Creating Communities for All Ages. Over 50 Community, Aging and Housing specialists convened for a “rectangle-table” discussion on the need for our communities to provide services, social opportunities, and housing for Iowans who want to live and retire in the same communities they grew up and worked in.  Many thoughts were shared, and the highlight was Governor Branstad’s Proclamation promoting age friendly communities that also create opportunities for healthy communities, tying in with his “Healthiest State in the Nation” goal.  In conjunction with the Proclamation and goal, Mayor Frank Cownie shared Des Moines was one of three Nationally named “Age Friendly Cities,” a title we should all be proud of by creating an environment that is both healthy, and easy to live in.

As Executive Officer of the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines, I listened intently to those around me discussing the challenges of providing services and how the socialization aspect was important to integrating an aging community with younger generations, yet no one had mentioned the basis of a community: Housing.  I began by mentioning I was also a City Council member in Urbandale and as a Council we had a goal of providing more affordable housing and specifically Senior affordable housing. I then went on to declare that affordable housing will quickly be a thing of the past. Surprisingly, many in the room nodded their heads as I explained my position, showing that several have already seen the impact of government regulations on traditional affordable housing.

We all want more energy efficient homes, however such goals are deterrred by regulations that increase construction costs in the hopes of receiving a long term investment; such requirements are not based on common sense. One example is the houses built must be so tight that only 3 air exchanges occur per hour, which means the air in your house stays their longer and the house doesn’t “breathe” to clean out any bad air. This means household cleaning chemical vapors stay in the house longer, fresh paint vapors stay in the house longer, and smoke from your overcooked pizza stays in the house longer.  The Energy Code solution to the low amount of air exchange is to punch a hole in the wall and place an electric “air Exchange” unit in to increase air flow.  The Energy code created a solution to a problem it also created – this just doesn’t make sense, but it’s an additional $1,500 cost to the homeowner.

My fear, as a Board member of the PCHTF, is that we are limited in the dollars we have to support affordable housing and to help our partners produce more units and provide services for low-income tenants. As our local, state and federal governments increase the price of housing through regulation, we, at the local level, are able to provide less services and produce fewer units to help those most in need.  It is my hope that leaders focus on the basics of providing energy efficient and AFFORDABLE housing and understand there is a balance point between the two.  I know that with the right people making educated decisions, we as a community will be able to support and make available more affordable housing in the years to come.

Creighton Cox
Executive Officer, Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines
PCHTF Board Member