Gary Lorenz has the Floor

Each Month a PCHTF Board Member shares their commitment to Affordable Housing

Gary Lorenz has the Floor

Some issues hit close to home – literally.  My wife and I happened to be driving near my childhood neighborhood in Des Moines recently and decided to swing by the house where I was raised.  Our house, near the corner of 26th and Hickman, was among the new, modest homes constructed in the 1950s.  I hardly recognized it.

The house appeared abandoned and the weeds were nearly as tall as me, I’m not very tall, but overgrowth as high as one’s shoulder is an eyesore in any neighborhood.  It made my heart ache as I recalled a neighborhood where pride of ownership was evident and it was teeming with children who were outdoors playing until supper or darkness called us home.

Granted some things change with time, but here’s something that is as true today as it was when I was growing up, and will be true when my grandchildren are adults – access to safe, stable and affordable housing affects our quality of life, our community’s vibrancy and opportunities for economic development.

That’s one of the reasons I serve on the Polk County Housing Trust Fund Board.  How I became aware of the need and saw a way to get involved included a convergence of paths.  One path was as an Ankeny City Council Member for eight years. During my first term we were having community discussions about neighborhoods that were showing their age and some homeowners did not have the resources or abilities to keep up with repairs. 

Parallel to that I was also serving on the United Way Action Council and attended a Summit Meeting.  The Summit was intended to pull together a cross-section of people interested in Human Services. At one point in the meeting the facilitator shared seven core topics or issues and pointed out the seven corresponding tables. We were told to go to the table that had the issue we wanted to address for our community, organization or company.  I was assigned the task of moderating the Housing table. It was soon clear that the greatest interest corresponded to the greatest need for just about every community represented in the room. Housing issues of one type or another.

It also revealed something those of us in the suburbs know – Des Moines may have more visible challenges in the area of housing and keeping up neighborhoods, but other communities have those challenges too, they just aren’t as obvious.  I also believe the “other shoe could drop” for many communities as neighborhoods age and neighbors move on. The impact of reduced work hours or job loss may also have long-term effects as a new generation of homeowners may not be able to afford to make needed home repairs to keep their area safe, affordable  and stable.

The good news is there are organizations and leaders that know how to improve our communities’ planning for and impact on providing safe, stable and affordable housing. The PCHTF is the leader, coordinator and funder of many key initiatives and I believe we can do more. 

While there are many ways to do more, I think a Regional approach to the issue of housing is key to having the kind of impact needed.  There is an interdependence between our communities in the area of workforce housing, economic development and the quality of life we provide in central Iowa.  People often live in one community and work in another.

My ask is simply this – the next time you are creating an agenda or having a conversation related to improving your organization or our shared communities, include the topic of housing.  Better yet, invite Eric Burmeister, the Executive Director of the PCHTF to speak and answer questions.  The topic is compelling, important and hits close to home for all of us. Thank you.