Ten advocacy programs joined forces to protest public housing closure
COLUMBIA, 3/11/12  (Beat Byte) -- A Des Moines, Iowa Housing Authority (DMMHA) sale of 517 low income housing units led by Columbia city manager Mike Matthes when he directed that agency has low-income housing advocates worried a plan is back on the table to demolish Columbia Housing Authority apartments on Park Avenue. 

The dots connect, they say.  Early last year, the Waters family -- publishers of the Columbia Daily Tribune -- moved their sizeable holdings alongside public housing into the anonymously-named "Fourth Street Property Management, LLC."   Garagezilla appeared, several stories higher than promised. 
A Blight Decree is back, similar to the blight designation proponents of a Federal Hope VI grant program used in 2006 to justify demolishing the CHA apartments.   And Mr. Matthes is now the most powerful public official in Columbia.
"Shonnae Lundy is one of the hundreds of renters who will be forced to find another place to live if the homes are sold," reported the Des Moines Register about the DMMHA sale in Sept. 2002.    A decade-long public housing resident, Lundy was paralyzed from a spinal cord injury and made $600 a month in disability and Social Security benefits. 

"Lundy's home has features that allow a person in a wheelchair to live alone," the Register reported.  "If Lundy cannot find handicap-accessible housing for the same rent, she fears she will be forced to live in a nursing home.  'It just makes me sick to my stomach to think I'll be put in a home,' Lundy said. 'It's just horrible that they can take my home away.'" 

Matthes explained that his agency had suffered for years from budget deficits, and that roughly 7% of the agency's units -- 65 out of 902 --had been neglected to the point of unlivability.  "Selling the homes will bring in cash and reduce maintenance costs," Matthes told the Register.
But his plan to sell off sixty percent of the agency's homes sparked resistance from ten low income advocacy groups, who banded together and spoke against the plan loudly and repeatedly.    They even offered an alternative, which they estimated would save DMMHA $130,000/year. 

"I don't like the idea of selling them, but that's what they're going to do," said Sister Stella Neill, executive director of Anawim Housing.

Robert Simmons of the Iowa Coalition for Housing and the Homeless worried private companies would purchase the city homes and charge rent well above what most poor people could afford.   "I just don't think that we should get rid of that type of subsidy given the need for housing," Simmons said. 
DMMHA ultimately received approval from HUD to sell the homes, and low-income participants are eligible to purchase them.  The project continues at a rate of about 50 houses per year to this day.