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June 2015 Policy Study, Number 15-6


The Nanny State Is Expanding And Private-Property Rights Are Decreasing


Dubuque Discrimnation Case



In June 2011 HUD began investigating the Dubuque housing commission and office, specifically the use of a preference point system for the awarding of Section 8 housing vouchers that was in use between 2009 and 2011.  There is no government-owned low-income housing in Dubuque, only private landlords who agree to accept Section 8 vouchers.  In order to better manage the number of applicants, which increased as a result of the 2008 recession and the mismanagement of the city of Chicago’s low-income housing program, Dubuque implemented a (supposedly allowed) local preference program to “better meet their communities’ needs.” 


The city decided to award points to Section 8 applicants based on where they lived when applying.  Current residents of Dubuque city were awarded the most points (30).  Next were current county residents (20), then Iowa residents (15), and finally those from outside the state.  The points were cumulative, which meant that current Dubuque city residents would end up with 65 points, compared to a non-Iowa resident’s 0 points.[22]  Elderly and disabled applicants were also given preference points, though a lower number.  Dubuque then further limited applicants to only point-eligible individuals.  That fact, combined with a shortage of owners willing to rent apartments and houses to Section 8 users, meant that virtually no one from outside of Iowa would ever be awarded a Section 8 voucher. 


Most current holders of the Section 8 vouchers in Dubuque were either elderly or disabled, and most had been on Section 8 for a fairly long period of time, five years or more.  Originally there was little reason to expect the makeup of the voucher applicants to change.  In Dubuque, as in many areas of Iowa, there is an overweighting of the population toward older residents.  Therefore, city leaders thought that by prioritizing current applicants with the point system, they would be helping their local low-income people to remain in the community, remain close to family and friends who were their support system, and be in stable living situations. 


Unfortunately, most of those from outside of Iowa during 2009-2011 who were applying for Section 8 vouchers were from “nearby” greater Chicago, Illinois, or Milwaukee or Madison, Wisconsin.  The distance from Dubuque to Chicago is almost 200 miles, and the drive time is four to five hours depending on traffic and weather.[23] 


HUD determined that low-income people living four hours away should be served as part of the Dubuque city expected and anticipated market segment for affordable housing, that Section 8 voucher applications must be accepted no matter where the individual is from, and that no priority could be given to local residents – most of whom were either elderly or disabled – in filling affordable housing needs.

The detailed analysis of these out-of-state applicants by HUD revealed that most of them were also African American.  Even though Dubuque stopped using the point system when the unintended consequence was brought to their attention, HUD determined that the City of Dubuque was de facto discriminating against African Americans and other minority citizens.  As a result of this discrimination – which the elected officials of the City of Dubuque did not agree was the intent – HUD forced them to sign a 30-some page Voluntary Compliance Agreement.  Even with no admission of intent to discriminate, the elected officials of Dubuque agreed to extensive, intrusive, and highly controlled oversight of the Section 8 and other housing support and assistance programs for the next five years.  The first year of this correction program is now ending.

The agreement includes specific and strict actions which must be taken to recruit low-income minorities to Dubuque, including extensive marketing and outreach in the Chicago metro area.  The numbers and demographics of applicants and ranking results, as well as the details on those actually being awarded a Section 8 voucher, must be reported quarterly. 


Chicago, on Lake Michigan in Illinois, is among the largest cities in the U.S.
with a population of 2.719 million (2013)


The following table outlines the current, March 2015, demographics of those holding Section 8 vouchers, compared to the overall demographics of Dubuque city, county, and the state of Iowa as of the 2010 census.


Dubuque already has a slightly larger African American population than all of Iowa, at 4 percent, compared to 3.3 percent.  This is significantly lower than the African American population of the city of Chicago at 33 percent and Illinois as a whole at 14.5 percent.  However, as of January 2015, the percent of voucher users in Dubuque who are African American is actually larger than the overall percent of African Americans who live in Chicago.  The “Hispanic” population details are not considered in this data as Hispanics may be either white or black and are considered an ethnic or origin status versus a racial status.  This complaint and analysis was only on racial issues. 


Racial Composition of Section 8 Households vs. Dubuque City, State of Iowa, City of Chicago, and State of Illinois


Primary Race (Non-Hispanic)

Total Voucher Holders, January 2015

Voucher Percent

Total City Resident Percent *

Total Iowa Resident Percent *

Total Chicago City Percent *

Total Illinois Percent*









Black/African American








American Indian/Alaskan Native
















Native Hawaiian








Total (Non-Hispanic) Families








Source:  Participant Statistical Summary Housing Choice vouchers - City of Dubuque, January 23, 2015, http://www.cityofdubuque/statistical/analysis/jan2015.pdf


Source:  Dubuque (city) Iowa, State of Iowa, City of Chicago, State of Illinois,


* Totals may not equal 100% because of rounding





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