On Sunday, May 28, a multi-use apartment building partially collapsed in Davenport, Iowa. No more than 24 hours after chunks of the six-story building fell, remarks from tenants and folks in the community indicate that the Davenport collapse was years in the making, brought on by a housing market rife with neglect and oversight (Quad-City Times).
The penalty for displacing tenants, many of whom were forced into temporary shelters, after losing their home, business, personal belongings, and potentially, their loved ones? A $300 fine plus $95 for court fees if the property owner is convicted of failing to maintain a “safe, sanitary and structurally sound building.” The penalty is cheaper than the $800+ rent to reside in the dilapidated building (Quad-City Times).
• Donate directly to those displaced by the Davenport building collapse.
• Contribute to the Quad Cities Disaster Recovery Fund, which provides support and recovery resources to those impacted.
• Join the rally at City Hall on Wednesday, June 7 at 4:30.
• Support organizations like Housing Justice League, Baltimore Renters United, and Housing Justice for All defending tenants’ housing rights.
Housing violations and complaints about nightmarish conditions have plagued the 80-unit building for years, with 14 units condemned earlier this year. Out-of-service elevators, lack of heat during the winter, plumbing problems, broken windows and ceiling tiles, falling bricks, and more plagued the residents. The building’s owner, Andrew Wold, who extended his “thoughts and prayers” to the tenants and families following the Davenport collapse, had regularly downplayed and ignored these concerns.
The building manager responded to a city inquiry regarding a resident’s complaint about not having heat with, “Lol! He has mental health issues” r (Iowa Public Radio). Wold, who owns multiple housing and apartment buildings under Davenport Hotel, LLC, also delayed and allegedly cut costs repairing the historic building’s deteriorating exterior, despite being warned that the structure was unstable.
According to one tenant who broke his lease months before the tragedy, he and many residents struggled to come up with the first and last month’s rent, plus a security deposit, to move to another apartment (CBS News). The Davenport collapse is a tragic example of the housing market forcing people into substandard lodging as affordable options become scarce.
“I spent the first half of my career trying to get people out of slums, and the second half trying to get them back in,” said Gary Blasi, a UCLA law professor who works with low-income tenants (LAist).
About half of U.S. households report the lack of affordable housing as a major problem in their communities, with low-income renters—disproportionately Black and Latine—especially feeling the strain (Pew Research). Rent is outpacing inflation, rising by 18% in the last five years. In 2021, nearly half of renters spent 30% or more of their income on housing, and 25% of renters spent at least 50%, leaving little left over for other necessities with the inflating cost of goods (Census Bureau). The quality of housing hasn’t risen to reflect the higher prices, resulting in people with lower incomes paying more for lower-quality housing (Washington Post).
Landlords face lower barriers to entry in low-income communities. Those operating in poor neighborhoods may profit more than those renting in more affluent communities, even when factoring in the maintenance, repairs, renter turnover, and missed payments (Green Residential, Chicago Press Journal).
There are cases of hazardous housing conditions worsening for years in rental units from coast to coast (LAist, Atlanta Civic Circle, ABC News). Instances of pest infestations, mold, lead paint, leaky pipes, broken heat and air conditioning units exposing tenants to serious health risks, sometimes contributing to major structural disasters. Capitalizing on the 2008 housing market crash, investors bought up the foreclosed homes, flipped them into rentals, and leased them out to the folks who just lost their homes or had been barred from homeownership (Washington Post). These corporate landlords are “equity-mining” communities and “subjecting tenants to what they allege are unfair rent hikes, shoddy maintenance and excessive fees” (NPR, NPR).
“The slum has never been a by-product of the modern city…Rather, the slum has historically been a prime moneymaker for those who saw in land scarcity, housing dilapidation, and racial segregation the opportunity to maximize their rate of return.”Princeton’s Matthew Desmond and MIT’s Nathan Wilmers, professors and researchers via Chicago Press Journal.
Legal loopholes, lack of knowledge about tenant protections, retaliation and threats of eviction, and strategically buying properties in areas with weak tenant protections allow landlords to skirt requirements meant to ensure renters have a habitable residence (NPR). Residential disasters like the Davenport collapse often reveal landlords with a history of negligent and predatory behavior.
The 2022 Bronx fire that killed 17 people spread due to faulty self-closing doors, an issue the city had repeatedly flagged. The 2021 Lakeside Pointe apartment fire in Indianapolis that displaced 25 residents followed 3,000 housing violations in six years, including exposed electrical splices and “mismanagement and neglect of severe maintenance requests from tenants, all while benefiting from millions in tax breaks by claiming they were a charity providing ‘affordable housing'” (Indy Star). Before the 2021 fire, the eighth one since 2020, the state attorney general deemed the apartment complex “uninhabitable.” The owners were still allowed to keep the property and house tenants. They later avoided a city lawsuit by selling the property in 2022 (Indianapolis Recorder).
The Davenport building collapse is a reminder that when housing is treated as a commodity to hoard and exploit and not a human right in need of protection, the outcome will always end in despair.
• An apartment building in Davenport, Iowa, partially collapsed.
• Tragic building disasters will continue to occur as corporate landlords get a free-pass to exploit a weakened housing market and those desperate for shelter.
• People are being forced into uninhabitable living conditions as the housing crisis surges.