Housing group seeks Davenport rent ordinance

Housing group seeks Davenport rent ordinance

Six days after the first anniversary of the Davenport building collapse, a community forum on housing safety will take place in Davenport.

The Quad Cities Tenant Alliance with Quad Cities Interfaith will convene a Housing Justice Community Forum on June 3rd at 6 p.m. at Zion Lutheran Church 1216 W. 8th St., to discuss a plan to prevent tenant displacement: a Davenport Rent Abatement Ordinance. Spanish language interpretation will be available.

Such an ordinance would allow the building officer of the Department of Development and Neighborhood Services to excuse tenants from paying rent when inspections find a threat to life and safety such as no heat, flooding, or a threatening electrical condition.

Schricker Apartments, 4th and Ripley streets, Davenport (OurQuadCities.com)
Schricker Apartments, 4th and Ripley streets, Davenport (OurQuadCities.com)

After the evacuation of 18 tenants from Schricker Apartments (401 W. 4th St., Davenport) in March, members of the QCTA investigated how Iowa City responded to the problem of tenant displacement due to substandard conditions, according to a Friday release from QCTA.

A mass evacuation of 400 lower-income tenants at the Rose Oaks Apartments prompted Iowa City to pass a Rent Abatement Ordinance in 2017. Iowa City’s policy has been an effective tool to enforce landlord compliance with building code, preventing involuntary displacement.

For the Davenport community forum, the QCTA has invited Iowa City’s Lead Inspector Stan Laverman to discuss how enforcement functions. Tenants will share why they support the adoption of a Davenport Rent Abatement Ordinance just like the one in Iowa City. Community members will be invited to ask questions.

The QCTA has secured meetings with multiple Davenport City Council members to present the proposal and invite them to attend the June 3rd event.

“We are excited to show our elected officials that – without a doubt – Davenport constituents support tenant protections. We hope to see a big turnout,” said Beth Longlett, a board member at Quad Cities Interfaith, member of the QCTA, and member at Zion Lutheran Church.

Supporting renters, protecting landlords

The QCTA thinks that passing a Rent Abatement Ordinance would support renters by incentivizing proactive investment in building maintenance without penalizing responsible landlords, the release said. When owners make necessary repairs, Davenport preserves rental housing and prevents displacement.

The involuntary displacements of tenants at the Schricker Apartments in 2024, 324 Main Street in 2023 (which killed three men), and the Crestwood Apartments in 2021 reveal the vulnerability of Davenport tenants, the QCTA said.

Nearly every week, Davenport renters must relocate due to no fault of their own, at their own expense, without guaranteed financial assistance, and often on very short notice.

In October, Ashley Handley was displaced from a property on Farnam Street, due to a severe sewage issue. Handley, a member of the Quad Cities Tenant Alliance, says: “Six months later, we are still struggling against impending homelessness. The ripple effects of displacement are endless.”

Inspectors need more tools for code enforcement to motivate compliance from regulatory-resistant landlords, QCTA said. Revoking rental licenses and posting vacate notices often leads to tenant displacement, putting inspectors in a no-win situation.

“We know that building inspectors often face a catch-22 when attempting to enforce the code,” said Gavin Gassmann, member of the QCTA, “When substandard buildings are condemned, Davenport renters are displaced. But when substandard buildings are not condemned, the consequences can be catastrophic.”

Crews dismantle partially collapsed apartment building in downtown Davenport in July 2023 (photo by Mike Colón)
Crews dismantle partially collapsed apartment building in downtown Davenport in July 2023 (photo by Mike Colón)

As a second or third order enforcement option, a Rent Abatement Ordinance targets irresponsible landlords without affecting responsible landlords. Iowa City’s example shows that withholding rent helps urge landlords to correct issues more than any other option because Rent Abatement financially impacts owners immediately, the QCA said.

Dennis Platt spoke with Stan Laverman, Iowa City’s Lead Inspector, who enforces the policy: “Mr. Laverman told us that Iowa City has enforced the Rent Abatement Ordinance 14 times in 7 years. The policy has been wildly successful – motivating landlords to correct compliance failures 100% of the time,” Platt said. “QCTA would love to see that kind of success in Davenport.”

Rent abatement also incentivizes tenants to report substandard housing issues before properties deteriorate and require demolition.

Ruth Quick, a QCTA member, said: “Many of my neighbors are scared to even call the city to complain about issues. Tenants like me fear displacement and retaliation. I support a Rent Abatement Ordinance because it reassures me that our landlords will be motivated to fix problems so that we can stay in our homes.”

A candlelight vigil recognizing the anniversary of the May 28, 2023 collapse of 324 Main St., will be held Tuesday, May 28 at 7 p.m. on the sidewalk outside the now-vacant property (covered by grass), and everyone attending is asked to wear purple.

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