The Hot Beat


The second-day story, with your help. Call Gazette reporter Adam Belz at (319) 398-8273 or e-mail him:

Reality and the Chicago connection

Eastern Iowa fears of the Chicago migration are nothing new, and they’re beginning to become cyclical. This is the lead of a big Sunday story in The Gazette on Aug. 18, 2003:

Christina McGowan remembers well those days when she lived on Chicago’s south side. She was called First Lady. She was respected and feared. She had money….

McGowan, 26, and her three children live in a two-bedroom Cedar Rapids apartment across the street from a cornfield, eking out a much more meager, but quieter, living.

“I am on my way to that happy ending, so to speak,” said McGowan, who moved to the area last year. “I think I was supposed to be dead or in jail right now.”

McGowan is among a growing number of new Eastern Iowans moving to the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City Technology Corridor who are fleeing the poverty and crime of inner cities.

Many are coming from Chicago, which is displacing families while tearing down its projects and replacing them with mixed-income town houses. The majority are African-American families – typically single mothers with children.

But I just got off the telephone with a woman named Susan Popkin, and she doesn’t buy the notion that black people have left Chicago in large numbers as housing projects have been torn down.

Popkin is a senior fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington D.C., and she’s been tracking Chicago public housing for almost a decade. People who left Chicago’s old public housing have largely moved to other parts of Chicago, or the south suburbs, she said.

“They have not moved to Iowa,” she said. “They’re in Chicago.”

The gentrification of Chicago is the driving force behind any migration, she said.

Popkin admits no weaknesses in the Section 8 subsidized housing program that several people around here blame for importing Chicago problems into Eastern Iowa cities, except this:

High concentrations of Section 8 vouchers in one neighborhood can ruin a neighborhood, Popkin said. This is the contention of Dale Todd, a Wellington Heights resident who grew up in Chicago and moved to Cedar Rapids in 1974.

“When we develop concentrations of Section 8 housing…it can have a negative impact on the people we’re trying to help,” he said. “The inability of regular landlords to rent in that neighborhood forces them to turn to Section 8. It’s a cycle.”

Popkin said it’s up to the local housing authority to be prudent in how it directs the vouchers. This requires outreach to new landlords, so more will accept them, so the vouchers will be spread out evenly across a community.

“When you have a modest number of voucher holders in a neighborhood it’s often good for property values because it’s a guaranteed income stream for landlords,” she said.


Filed under: Cedar Rapids Library, Public Safety, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Rural turnout up

As of 3 p.m., rural and smalltown voters are turning out in greater number — when compared with past turnouts — than are urban voters.

Polls for today’s primary election close at 9 p.m., and the Linn County Auditor’s Office is keeping tabs on turnout here, where you can pull up a detailed spreadsheet near the bottom of the page.

Some of the hottest non-Cedar Rapids/Marion precincts are in Center Point, where turnout is half again what it was in 2006 when the 3 p.m. numbers were released, and Robins, where turnout has doubled.

We’ve posted a little rundown of those numbers on the website, and Rick Smith and I will be down at the Administrative Office Building (930 First St. SW) later tonight, soaking in all the electricity. You should come too.

Filed under: County Government, , , ,

Sterzenbach drops the rural urban bomb

Should Linn County supervisors answer first to rural residents even though most people in the county live in the Cedar Rapids metro area?

That was one of the questions Norm Sterzenbach asked at a forum for Democratic candidates on Wednesday. Here’s what they said.

– District 2 Democrat Bernita Rozinek, of Ely: supervisors should first represent their districts. 

– District 5 Democrat Larry Wear, of Center Point: just remember there is a Linn County outside of Cedar Rapids.

– District 4 Democrat Don Gray, of Central City: a lot of supervisors will serve both rural and metropolitan areas.

– District 5 Democrat Jim Houser, of Cedar Rapids: actually Linn County spreads more gravel on rural roads than any county in Iowa.

In the midst of that, Supervisor Lu Barron, of Cedar Rapids, rose to her feet. Smiling stiffly, wearing a teal jacket and holding a sheet of paper in her right hand, the District 1 Democrat gave an answer that steadfastly refused to acknowledge either the legitimacy of the question or the historic changes this primary represents:

I believe our job is to represent all the residents of Linn County…no matter where they live.”

Strictly speaking, she will not represent all Linn County residents. In the county’s new political landscape her District 1 constituency will consist only of Cedar Rapids residents.

They  will decide — not voters from Walker, Prairieburg or Mount Vernon — whether it is she or Cary J. Hahn who wins the election on Tuesday, and so it will be they she represents.

Filed under: County Government, , , ,

Is Linn County urban or rural?

Obviously it doesn’t have to be one or the other, but again, I’m looking for people’s ideas on this question. The primaries are less than two weeks away, and this election year is the fruition of a long struggle for rural residents who want more representation in county government.

This November, Linn residents will elect five supervisors instead of three and they will choose them by district instead of at-large. The idea was this: more supervisors + election by district = more chance of their being a rural resident elected to the Board of Supervisors. We’ll see what happens, but this is a rural vs. urban question. Should farmers be given a spot on the BOS simply because they’re crucial to the county’s economy? Is farming crucial to Linn County’s economy?

This is not a poll (I learned my lesson last time). It’s just a way to get a sense of what some people think.

Filed under: County Government, , ,

RSS Linn County Auditor on Twitter

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