Iowa Equity Challenge Day 15

Day 15 of 21



Many of us have spent a lot of time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, likely in an affordable house where we feel safe, secure, and comfortable. But not all Iowans can say the same. 


Despite the Fair Housing laws that protect against discrimination based on race, religion, sex, familial status, and disability, some Iowans still have difficulty securing housing, especially in neighborhoods with good schools, low unemployment rates, and less crime. 


Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris of Cedar Rapids experienced this discrimination in the early 1960s when the couple started looking for a larger home for their growing family. They found that property owners refused to sell to a Black family in predominantly white neighborhoods. Although it is rarely so overt, similar discrimination still exists today. 

Learn more about the Harris family story in this video from Iowa Culture.



Access to affordable housing also plays a prominent role in housing inequities. To address this issue, the federal government created subsidy programs such as the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8). These vouchers help low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities nationwide afford adequate, stable housing. 


In 2021, the Iowa Legislature passed Senate File 252, which prevents cities from using "source of income" ordinances and makes it easier for landlords to refuse to rent to applicants who use the vouchers. As a result, low-income, veteran, disabled, and elderly Iowans will find it more challenging to maintain their current housing or move to a new home. 


Currently, Des Moines, Marion, and Iowa City have laws that ban discrimination based on a renter's source of income. These ordinances will be nullified by the new Iowa law as of January 1, 2023. 


Learning Objectives

  • Explain how potential homeowners and renters might experience discrimination.  
  • Understand how the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) works.
  • Learn what laws protect an individual’s right to adequate, safe, and stable housing. 


Today's Activities


Choose one or more of these daily activities to learn about today’s topic. Plan to set aside 15 to 30 minutes to complete the activities and journal about your thoughts and feelings. 


Read “Housing Discrimination: What Is It and What Can You Do About It?” (14 min) to learn how to recognize racial, sexual orientation, and other biases in housing, as well as how to fight back against it.


Read “Expanding Housing Vouchers Would Cut Poverty and Reduce Racial Disparities” (2 min) from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to learn how voucher programs can be used to address inequities in housing.


Watch “Exposing Housing Discrimination” (4:57) from the Urban Institute to learn about paired-testing, which is used to assess discrimination, and discover how systemic disparities in the housing market impact homeownership, neighborhoods, and access to quality education.


Explore the Iowa Civil Rights Commission website and learn how ICRC anlocal civil rights agencies work to end discrimination in Iowa. 

Check out these specific resources regarding Fair HousingFair Housing & Advertising, and Immigration Status & Housing Discrimination.  


Capture what you learned by writing down your thoughts and feelings about today's content.

  • What was your “aha moment” (moment of surprise or new information)?
  • Does this information change your perspective?
  • How will you use what you learned today to create more equitable spaces? 
  • How does housing discrimination affect generational wealth?
  • What is the role of housing choice vouchers in addressing the rental crisis?

Download a free journal page for today.


Additional Resources & Activities


If you would like to dig deeper into this issue, check out these additional resources. We encourage you to revisit this material when you have more time. Feel free to come back to this topic as often as you’d like!


  • Check out “Evicted” (432 pages) by Matthew Desmond, which expands our understanding of poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving one of America’s most devastating problems in the 21st century. 
  • Screen “Poverty, Politics, and Profit” (54:46), a documentary from NPR and PBS FRONTLINE that investigates the billions spent on affordable housing — and why so few get the help they need.
  • Screen “Owned, a Tale of Two Americas” (1:23:00) a documentary exploring the dark history behind the U.S. housing economy, from its racist beginnings to commoditization. 
  • Read Exposing Housing Discrimination” (4 min) from the Urban Institute to take a closer look at the discrimination faced by same-sex couples and transgender individuals, families with children, racial and ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities. 
  • Read Housing Choice Voucher Fact Sheet” (8 min) from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to learn more about the program’s eligibility requirements, application process, and tenant/landlord obligations. 
  • Read “Racial Disparities in Home Appreciation” (30 min) from the Center for American Progress, an in-depth report about how segregation and racial disparities in home appreciation put Black Americans at a disadvantage, undermining their ability to build equity and accumulate wealth.
  • Watch this segment (4:19) from ABC News to hear two families share their experiences of disparate treatment and discrimination 30 years ago, as well as their desire to inspire youth to keep fighting for equality.
  • Watch Fighting Housing Discrimination - One Family’s Story” (8:04) from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to follow a family’s fight against discriminatory practices. 



Share your reflections on today’s topic on social media using the hashtag #IowaEquityChallenge.



Next Topic: Wealth & Income