Jeff Damman Has the Floor

From rural to urban, all communities need affordable homes

Jeff Damman Has the Floor

Like many of you, where I live now is not where I grew up.

I grew up on a farm near Newton, now live in Ankeny, and have a livelihood tied to the economic vitality of Greater Des Moines and Iowa as a whole. I believe all people deserve to have a safe and affordable place to live and I also believe our state’s economic wellbeing is determined in part by if employees can find the right mix of housing options in the communities where they work.  

I am the PCHTF board member selected to represent the eastern part of Polk County which includes communities such as Altoona, Ankeny and Pleasant Hill.  While I always keep that role in mind, my thoughts and questions as a board member are also influenced by my upbringing and professional experiences.

We had a typical farm raising cattle and hogs, growing corn and beans, and baling hay back in the day of small square bales that seemed to grow heavier the higher the stack. As a teen I had plans to graduate early from high school and work our family farm, but my Vocational Agriculture teacher said, “Absolutely not! You need to go to college.” And just like that I set upon a different path going to ISU, earning a degree in Ag Education and wanting to be a teacher. A semester of student-teaching provided a dose of reality and I quickly left the classroom to go to DuPont where my first job out of college was in ag sales. In 1986 that led to a position at Farm Credit Services. The year is significant in that it put me on the financial side of farming right amid the Farm Crisis. It was a little like joining the army in the middle of the war.

It was during that time I learned to see people’s livelihoods, land and homes in a whole different light. Déjà vu 10 years ago with the crisis in the subprime mortgage market and the Great Recession. Where was I? Again, right amid the crisis in the banking industry where I still work today.

Naturally these events provided significant lessons that inform my work as a board member, but as significant is the simple and powerful fact that where we rest our head at night and wake up each morning, especially as children, contributes most critically to how our life will develop.

That’s why it was no surprise that when the Des Moines Register published the outcome of its 2017 Changing Iowa events, where participants from around the state created an agenda of important items for elected leaders to address, the top request was HOUSING.  The need for the right mix of housing – whether in a rural setting, micro-politans (cities between 10,000-50,000) or in the heart of downtown Des Moines – is clear and so is the shortage.  A recent report from the Urban Institute found that Polk County has just 30 affordable housing units for every 100 people who need them. That’s a significant, and potentially catastrophic, shortage.

With that said, what gives me confidence is the growing buzz around housing and the cross-section of leaders who are taking notice here and throughout the state.  And given you are reading this, I expect you are among those who care and are working to make changes – whether that be in rehabbing old housing stock, including a discussion around housing in meetings, developing policies that are purposeful in their intent for adding the right kind of housing so people have the option to live near where they work, designating lower rents for a portion of units in new developments, or making a donation to the upcoming PCHTF supportive services campaign – for that, and more, I thank you.  

Whether you are a former Iowa farm kid like me, a big city transplant, or had an upbringing in a community somewhere in-between, we share in the opportunity to impact the overall prosperity of our shared communities through housing.

Jeff Damman is Vice President and Commercial Lender at MetaBank in Ankeny. Jeff has served on the PCHTF Board of Directors since 2017 and was recently elected to serve as Board Treasurer in 2018.