Housing code bill clears House
By Ken Sullivan
Gazette political writer
DES MOINES – Nearly three dozen Iowa communities will be required to adopt a housing code and arrange to enforce it by Jan. 1, 1981, under terms of a bill adopted in the House of Representatives Thursday and sent to the Senate.
Despite opposition led by Rep. Robert M.L. Johnson, R-Cedar Rapids, the House supported the bill, described as “one of the best bills…on behalf of cities in 60 years,” by a vote of 60-36.
The bill repeals the state’s 60-year-old housing code, then mandates cities with populations of 15,000 or more to adopt one of five proven housing codes and develop an enforcement program.
It also calls for an interim committee this year to further investigate needs of Iowa communities in the area of housing conditions.
In calling for passage of the measure, Rep. Dale Hibbs, R-Iowa City, told fellow legislators, “We have a clear choice here. Iowa has a housing code that’s old, feeble, almost dead. It’s a bad, bad, bad code.”
The bill before them, he said, provides cities the alternatives which will allow them to take one of five possible codes and tailor it to fit the needs of the local community.
Johnson, however, rejected any arguments that the bill is a form of home rule.
Pointing our that 23 communities much have a housing code in force by Jan. 1, or the state will automatically impose the Uniform Housing Code, Johnson declared, “This bill is not home rule. It is mandate. The only choice cities are given is that we tell them, ‘Do it your way now, or do it our way later.’
“We overprotect, overregulate and underestimate the people of Iowa.”
Indicating he believed many lawmakers were misinterpreting the measure, Johnson told them, “We’re not just talking about apartment houses. This affects every house in every city.”
And, he said, coming up with an equitable housing code is a difficult chore, one Cedar Rapids has been struggling with the last three years.
In addition, he warned lawmakers from smaller communities, “once they get this to cities over 15,000 population, they’ll be back to get the rest. You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
There is no doubt the old housing code needs to be repealed, he said, then asked why the proposal didn’t stop with that move, particularly when an interim study is being included in the proposal.
Two Eastern Iowa lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to change the population limits.
Rep. Hurley Hall, D-Marion, wanted to drop the mandatory size to communities of 5,000, while Rep. Phil Tyrrell, R-North English, wanted to boost it to 25,000.
Among the Eastern Iowa communities affected under the 15,000 population limit are Cedar Rapids, Marion, Iowa City, and Dubuque.