EVICTION DIVERSION: ‘EVERYONE WINS ON THIS DEAL’
Eric Burmeister, executive director of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, recalls getting a 2020 phone call from county supervisor Angela Connolly, who didn’t mince words. “Go down there and stop the evictions,” she commanded. “Do what you need to do to dismiss these evictions.”
So he and Anne Bacon, with enthusiastic backing from the Polk County Supervisors, the City of Des Moines, and the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, built the IMPACT Community Action Partnership to help. Bacon, IMPACT’s CEO, reports that in Polk County beginning September 2020, $37.3 million in federal rent assistance was distributed to more than 7,000 unduplicated households, with an additional 3,000 households in the pipeline awaiting another $9 million.
Last fall, the U.S. Treasury Department recognized Polk County, the City of Des Moines, and IMPACT as one of America’s top 10 performing jurisdictions.
“The folks at IMPACT have made a real difference in keeping families housed,” praises J.B. Conlin, chief operating officer at Conlin Properties. “They have worked tirelessly to help as many families as possible, but the need continues to be enormous.”
J.B. credits Anne and Eric, with putting the program together. “Eric was down there in the trenches, face to face with tenants during the height of the pandemic,” J.B. recalls. “Plus, Anne hired good people.”
And Ashley Sloterdyk, a contract worker for the Polk County Housing Trust. Most days, Ashley leaves his office with a smile on his face, knowing he’s helped a bunch of tenants and landlords avoid the onerous eviction process.
January 4 was a busy day for Ashley at the Polk County Justice Center, where he navigated 70 eviction hearings. That was down from December 27, when 148 hearings jammed his daily docket. I sat in as Ashley signed up Bailey, a Village of Westchester (Ward 1) apartment dweller, whose sales job was axed when COVID struck.
Bailey and a roommate limped through several lean months, keeping up with a $750 monthly rent. But when Bailey’s roommate moved out, the scenery changed. Although Bailey now works about 30 hours a week for an events caterer — below a $51,000 annual income — he’s fallen behind three months in rent.
Bailey found his way to the Justice Center Project and Ashley’s first-floor office. “We are going to make your day,” Ashley told Bailey.
It took Ashley and Bailey about 15 minutes to knock out an Emergency Rent Assistance Program (ERAP) application, administered in Polk County by IMPACT. With a couple of mouse clicks, Bailey’s eviction hearing was postponed for two weeks. Based on IMPACT’s record of 95% successful applications, according to the Treasury Department, the Westchester property managers will get Bailey’s total rent payments and avoid the eviction process, which can stain a tenant’s records regardless of whether the eviction occurs. Thanks to IMPACT, no black mark will appear on Bailey’s record.
J.B. Conlin understands that eviction is costly for landlords and that they need to be part of any conversation on how best to alleviate situations. One of J.B.’s suggestions: Convene a roundtable to understand how to get to the root of the problem and stop eviction from occurring. J.B. also would like to see Polk County pilot an eviction diversion court.
“We need to get families the specific assistance they need to stop the cycle of eviction,” he says. “If that is a better job, let’s get Iowa Workforce involved. If that is help with domestic violence, let’s get Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence involved. We need counselors partnering with families who are chronically facing evictions.”
THE WHITE COATS ARE COMING: BROADLAWNS HEALTHCARE INTERNSHIPS
Just weeks after graduating from Lincoln High School last June, Teranai Tolson was steaming toward a healthcare career, thanks in part to a paid internship at Broadlawns Medical Center.
After a two-month program, Teranai graduated with six college credits and immediately started as a patient care technician (PCT) in Broadlawns’ Sands Unit for inpatient behavioral health. She now works the third shift (11 p.m.–7:30 a.m.), which pays $17.70 per hour—enough to get a car loan on her own.
Broadlawns offers Training and Education for Careers in Healthcare (TECH) for area high school students, and Training and Education for Adults seeking Careers in Healthcare (TEACH). The programs are modeled after similar John Hopkins programs.
Teranai credits Carla Brazelton, a recruiter for Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates (iJOB), to connect her with the TECH program. “She gave me a nudge for this,” Teranai recalls, “and she was so excited to see me graduate.”
Remarkably, Teranai missed a week of her senior year while hospitalized in the very Sands unit she now works. It was while confined that she learned about the TECH program. “It was amazing,” she recalls. “It’s crazy and feels like a dream.”
Teranai lights up about making a difference for her patients. “One of the females is in her 40s. She was delusional and wouldn’t talk to anyone. But I got a chance to speak to her about her feelings, and her triggers. I could relate. This helped her get into therapy. She can now manage her PTSD and anxiety. This was just super awesome, when you can help one person out of 30 patients and see them grow.
“My dad and stepmom are so proud. And I’m showing a good example for my siblings.”
Next up, Teranai wants to continue her nursing studies at DMACC and become a travel nurse.
DMACC instructors lead the classes, limited to 10 students, on the Broadlawns campus. Dennis Henderson, the Broadlawns program coordinator since 2017, reports that the TEACH program boasts an 80% graduation rate for more than 100 participants. In Teranai’s TECH class, all nine high school students graduated.
Edwin Rojas, a 2019 Roosevelt graduate who entered the TECH program in 2018, is an Iowa State junior with a 3.81 GPA and full-ride Lois Dale and Science Bound scholarships. Broadlawns paid Edwin to complete a certified nursing assistant (CNA) program; he now works at Broadlawns as a patient care technician (PCT) during the summer, on weekends, and at Iowa State breaks. He squeezes in a few hours at the Story County Medical Center in the school year.
Edwin became interested in healthcare as a career when he translated for his mother at her doctor’s appointments. It gave him a firsthand realization of the diversity in healthcare, and the solution he helps provide.
“I look like many patients and I can talk with them in Spanish,” says Edwin. He is leaning toward becoming a physician assistant and working in several departments to build a solid foundation before, hopefully, attending medical school.
“Healthcare connected for me,” he relates. “I hope to give back to my community one day and help people in need.”
Edwin has this advice for high school students wanting to take a peek at healthcare through the Broadlawns TEACH program. “There needs to be more color in healthcare,” he asserts. “This could be a stepping stone to see where you want to go in life. Why not try it out? You’re not going to lose anything.”
You can find details about both Broadlawns programs here.
TREE ENEMY #1: EMERALD ASH BORER
Des Moines City Forester Shane McQuillan reports that the nasty emerald ash borer still has its way with our treasured ash trees.
Last year, staff removed about 600 ash trees from City property, including along streets and in parks. Expect to see eight removed from Gray’s Lake Park in the next few weeks. Several excellent specimens near Fleur Drive also have a date with the chainsaw.
A sprinkling of good news: Arbor Masters, a Kansas City firm, has agreed to treat about 140 ash trees along ML King Parkway in the section between 16th Street and Principal Park. With luck, those will survive.
Shane reports that individuals and companies have stepped up to adopt about 200 ash trees. Sponsorship costs $10 per diameter inch ($200 for a 20-inch-diameter tree, suitable for two or three years). Find program details here.
Shane adds that the Public Works crews dropped another 700 non-ash trees from City property last year. On the plus side, Trees Forever, a City partner, planted 1,200 trees in 2021, almost three times their goal, according to Leslie Berckes, Trees Forever’s director of programs.
SPECIAL DUTY: PRIVATE PROPERTY CLEAN-UP CREW
Snowstorms, potholes, street repairs, street-sweeping, sewer maintenance, and residential refuse pickups keep most of the Public Works Department’s 400-plus employees busy year-round.
Then there’s the Public Work’s little-known private property clean-up crew. The three-person team (occasionally expanded to four) tackles City code violations. It, too, is year-round work.
On Tuesday, the team was scheduled for most of the day for second trips to two Drake Neighborhood yards—appliances, furniture, brush, and tires were among the items checked for one house. An untagged vehicle and trailer were noted in the front yard around the corner.
It’s not for everyone, but Rick Thompson bid to join this team. The variety of work appeals to Rick. “Every day is different,” Rick reports. “Some days, we’re required to wear a hazmat suit to clean out an abandoned house. It can be bad.
“Some property owners apologize about their yard. Some people are irate. A police officer always accompanies us—just to be safe for everyone.”
When the City receives a private-property complaint, the call is routed to Neighborhood Services inspectors. The inspector issues a 21-day cleanup notice to the property owner when warranted. If the complaint moves forward, a work order gets generated for the property clean-up crew.
The team’s primary duty is cleaning up private property that does not meet city code—everything from residential yard debris to abandoned buildings. This crew also cleans up illegal dumping along streets—anything from hauling away a load of shingles to walking a street to pick up litter.
The crew also cleans up health and safety hazards at homeless camps.
Property owners are assessed for the clean-up fees, which could vary from a handful of staff hours (for a two-hour trip, $1,018 is a typical charge, including and haul-away fees) to $1,942 in fees for one property in 2021.
The most recent issue of Iowa Architect, the magazine of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Iowa, included awards for several local firms and Des Moines projects:
AIA National Award
Neumann Monson Architects for Market One
AIA Central State Region Design Awards
BNIM Architects for the Tom and Ruth Harkin Center BNIM Architects for MidAmerican Energy Corporate Office and Conference Center Renovation
AIA Iowa Design Awards
BNIM Architects for MidAmerican Energy Corporate Office and Conference Center Renovation
Neumann Monson Architects for 219 E Grand Avenue
BNIM Architects for the Tom and Ruth Harkin Center
Substance Architecture for the Locust Street Bridge Reconstruction
AIA Iowa Craft Award
Neumann Monson Architects for 111 East Grand Avenue