Iowa City Carpenters Organize Community Repair Event

Iowa City Carpenters Organize Community Repair Event

November 13, 2020

In August 2020, a derecho storm raged through Iowa City impacting the Forest View Mobile Home community damaging already deteriorating homes. These houses now have serious external and internal foundation issues leaving residents at risk of fire hazards, flooding and exposure to freezing temperatures during the winter months. In preparation of the impending cold, Carpenters Local 1260 in Iowa City, IA organized a community event to assist residents with much needed home repairs.

NCSRCC Business Representative Derek Duehr (Local 678) assessing roof damage on one of the impacted homes.
NCSRCC Business Representative Derek Duehr (Local 678) assessing roof damage on one of the impacted homes.

According to the National Weather Service, a derecho storm is a rare, lengthy windstorm associated with fast-moving thunderstorms. It can produce similar damage to a tornado, although the winds typically blow in one direction. A storm is classified as a derecho if the wind gusts are at least 58 mph and the swath of wind extends more than 240 miles. In Jackson County, which includes Iowa City, the storm produced 100 mile per hour winds causing tens of thousands of people to be without power and an estimated $6.1 million dollars in damage and clean-up costs.

The Forest View Mobile Home Park is one of Iowa City’s oldest neighborhoods. It is also one of the few remaining affordable housing options in town and is home to many workers, families with young children and senior citizens. Some residents have lived there for over 40 years.

The homes suffered serious property damage because of the derecho storm, including punctured roofs, damaged drywall, broken windows, leaks, and mold. The structural integrity of several homes was compromised by fallen tree branches caused by blowing winds and heavy rain.

In 2016, developers announced plans to demolish the Forest View homes as part of a large-scale $200 million-dollar project. Residents organized and negotiated an agreement to create new affordable housing for existing families in the new development. Homeowners also partnered with the Building and Construction Trades Unions to negotiate an agreement with North Dubuque LLC and Blackbird Investments, based in Des Moines, pledging to use union labor and quality working standards.

To make room for the new build, the mobile home park residents will relocate to manufactured housing scheduled to be built west of the current neighborhood. It has been over a year since the letter of intent was signed, and the project remains on hold while the homes continue to fall into disrepair.

Royce Peterson
Royce Peterson of Carpenters Local 1260 carries scaffolding framing to be assembled at a trailer at Forest View Trailer Court in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

The community repair event was led by Royce Peterson, Business Representative from the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters and member of Local 1260. Royce has been helping with small fixture repairs for the past four years. His efforts have grown into a large-scale effort that brings dozens of volunteers to Forest View.

Carpenters, laborers, electricians, community residents, and university students volunteered the weekend of September 12 to help repair the homes.

The event was a success, made possible with additional support from the Teamsters Local 238, Teamcan Labor Union, Iowa City Federation of Labor, University of Iowa Labor Center, the City of Iowa City, and many others.

Robin Clark-Bennett, Labor Educator at the University of Iowa Labor Center, was instrumental in the organizing of the community event. She helped with important logistics like surveying, calculating cost of materials, volunteer outreach, and ensuring proper COVID-19 safety protocols were followed.

“This shows that when people come together, they can achieve great things. This is setting a great example for our kids about the importance of unity and helping each other out” said Margarita Baltazar, VP of the Forest View Tenants Association.

Rhea Pierce
Carpenters Union Local 1260 business representative Rhea Pierce carries a scaffolding plank from one trailer to another as work moves to a new roof at Forest View Trailer Court in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Businesses representatives Rhea Pierce, member of local 2704 in Dyersville, IA; Derek Duehr, member of local 678 in Dubuque, IA; Bob Doubek, member of Local 308 in Cedar Rapids, IA; Steve Nienhaus, also from Local 1260; and a handful of other volunteer carpenters spent the weekend helping with repairs.

Together, they were able to fix ten out of the 20 homes, with a second weekend volunteer event on October 17-18 to complete the remaining homes. The residents’ dream to move to their new homes still stands, and they are looking forward to working with the carpenters union in the future development.

Read The Gazette's coverage of the October 17 event: Developers promised Iowa City mobile home residents new homes. That was 17 months ago