Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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June 16, 2012

Sullivan’s Salvos 6/19/12 In this edition: *Mobile Home Dilemma *Did You Know? *Mobile Home Dilemma The Board once again waded into the difficult topic of how to address the housing crisis that exists for many older mobile homes in the county. Again, I believe it is important to recognize that most mobile home parks in Johnson County are well run, and offer affordable housing to thousands of residents. Unfortunately, there are a couple operations – most notably Regency south of Iowa City – that function with a total disregard for human well-being. The human need is indeed great - big holes in floors, broken windows, animal infestations, lack of heat, no hot water, etc. Many of the folks who live in these units simply do not have the money to make these repairs, let alone to move. Last year, the Board of Supervisors attempted to address this issue in part through a property maintenance ordinance. This would have put housing in Johnson County through an inspection similar to those in Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, and every other city. The Board even allocated $20,000 to help mobile home owners who could not otherwise comply with the ordinance. But in the face of an angry room full of rural residents, three Supervisors voted against it. There was still an outcry to address the situation, much of it coming from the religious community. So, in an attempt to satisfy the social justice folks in our county, the Board voted to allocate $20,000 to once again attempt a different method of addressing this issue. I was part of a committee designated to determine if and how this money should be spent. (This was just the most recent committee; I have been speaking to experts about this issue for 8 years, since the murder of Jetsetta Gage during my first year as a Supervisor.) The committee has looked at virtually everything. Attorneys, detectives, deputies, tax experts, social workers, immigrant rights advocates, housing experts, owners of well-run parks, zoning experts, public health… it seems as though we have included everyone. Yet there are no good answers. So, the committee voted to use the $20,000 for repairs in owner occupied mobile homes. I agree that in a perfect world, Regency would cease to exist. But where would all the residents go? The wait for affordable housing is long. What’s more, several residents will not qualify for these programs due to legal status/legal issues. What about them? What about their children? Not everybody can benefit from charitable giving and reside in a Habitat House. Hell, Habitat can’t/won’t take lots of these people! The need is too great. Along similar lines, simply buying Regency might solve the problem. But do taxpayers want to hand a check over to the least humane business (Churchill Group) any of us have ever seen? Is that where you want $4 million of your tax dollars going? And once we buy it, what does it cost to renovate and operate? Is this the proper role of government? As you can see, the battle rages on. Unfortunately, two Supervisors voted against the plan to use the $20,000 for repairs to individually owned mobile homes. Supervisor Rettig wanted some of the money to be used to demolish and dispose of some of the mobile homes. I do not necessarily disagree – in theory. But this presents several issues: first, where do these people go? It costs about $5000 to destroy and dispose of a single mobile home. Add in a rental deposits, utility deposits, first month’s rent, etc. and the $20,000 we allocated will serve about two families. Secondly, now that Regency has a nice clean pad, they can rent it out all over again. I see this as lining the pockets of the Churchill Group, and allowing them to prey upon even more people. It is a transfer of public money to a vile private entity. I guess I could understand the argument that pre-1976 homes are such fire traps, we should not invest in them. Again, I do not necessarily disagree. But people still live there. Fixing a roof cannot guarantee the trailer will not burn down. But it can guarantee no rain gets in! Supervisor Neuzil made this argument. First, if he felt so strongly this way, he should have voted for the ordinance last year. And he still wanted to spend the money, just on newer trailers. That made no sense to me - I think if government is going to intervene, it needs to help those with the greatest needs. A Republican friend of mine also opposed the County spending this money. She said she felt the private sector needed to step up. I could not agree more! But this is the free market at work! Regency has few regulations; the Board failed to pass an ordinance, remember? So, the “private sector” is doing what it is designed to do – make as much money as possible. I pushed her on this, and she was not one of those folks who feel the residents should be completely left to their own devices. She agreed that something should be done. She mentioned charities; they have helped some, but Regency management likes to keep them out. As we pointed out, the private sector is not getting it done in this case. Any "long term" solutions are going to involve more government, which she doesn't want. I honestly do not see a "conservative" way out of this mess, other than to say residents are on their own. And that is fine; many folks feel that way. I happen to disagree. I see several BIG roles for government here – including safe water, working sewer, police protection, public transit – the list goes on. I just don't want people implying there is something ELSE we could do that would be cheaper and/or more effective. Because I've studied this for years, and I don't know what that response would be. Again, I'm open to suggestions - but lots of good minds have worked on this, and cannot come up with a better solution. I have used an analogy several times that I will repeat here, because I think it illustrates the depth of our problems. We are dealing with a man who is chronically mentally ill, chronically alcoholic, chronically homeless, and chronically unemployed. He has all sorts of additional health needs. We are offering him a free lunch. We know our lunch does not go very far. We know it does not address any of the underlying issues. But we do not have the necessary resources to address every problem this guy faces. We can make his life just a little better for a short time – we can buy him lunch. That is how I view this $20,000. It is a band-aid. We have huge problems. We seem to be politically unable to address them any other way. Don’t get me wrong. We still need a local ordinance. We still need changes to state law. We still need criminal prosecutions. We still need strong enforcement from the DNR, County, and other regulating bodies. We still need more and better affordable housing. I promise to continue to fight for all of this. Meanwhile, let’s agree to do what we can right now. Let’s buy this guy lunch. *DID YOU KNOW? Johnson County is home to about 3,000 mobile homes, about 20% of which date to pre-1976. (Source: Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity.) Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website- "Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents. These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned. If you do NOT want the weekly E-mail, simply reply to this message, and type "unsubscribe" in the subject line. If you know anyone else who might be interested, just forward this message. They can E-mail me at with "subscribe" in the subject line. As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you! ---Rod


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