EDITED AND UPDATED (3-13-18, 2:04 PM) – Sutton is not and was never pursuing any sort of lawsuit against the city, she is simply pushing the city to enforce their own policies. While the broadcast story has already been published and cannot be edited, the change has been reflected in the article below.
EDITED AND UPDATED (3-13-18, 2:11 PM) – Assistant County Attorney Ry Meyer was listed with an incorrect title. The change has been reflected in the article below.
DUBUQUE – Lynn Sutton walks up to the landing and points down to the foot of the pale green front door.
“Look at how much air that’s letting in,” she notes.
She politely knocks, and steps inside.
It’s a routine procedure for Sutton, who’s on a mission to shine a light on the poor housing problems in Dubuque.
The male tenant inside answers a few of her questions.
“To be honest, this apartment, we’re living in it because we have to,” he says.
“When was your last inspection?” asks Sutton.
“We couldn’t even tell you.”
Another tenant leads her through a tour of the small triplex: cracks in numerous walls from worn-down plaster, moisture problems causing caved in ceilings, a door completely off its hinges resting on an adjacent wall.
The tenants that live here pay cheap rent for cheap living conditions.
Later that day, Sutton stops by the Courthouse to discuss the problem with Assistant County Attorney Ry Meyer.
“When people don’t have access to safe housing, they become unstable, and destabilized people are people who are more likely to become victims of crime,” explains Meyer.
Sutton agrees and adds, “…It’s not good for those kids that are in there. Because they begin to think that it’s the norm.”
“When you ignore a systemic problem, it becomes normal,” Meyer replies, “and when it becomes normalized, then you don’t think it’s a problem anymore. But that still hasn’t fixed the underlying problem.”
Sutton is currently planning on putting together reports from a large number of tenants and bringing them to the attention of the city council, asking them to uphold their own standards for housing quality.
She stops by an apartment building on Iowa Street later that afternoon, pointing out exposed wiring, a chimney full of branches and debris, and a second floor door that doesn’t have a landing.
The poor living conditions aren’t exclusive to just a few places in Dubuque.
Sutton pulls out an this inspection report, filed about a month ago for a house on Chestnut Street near downtown. It’s two pages long, with over 40 violations that didn’t hold up to code.
And it’s not uncommon that in a bad situation, when a tenant complains, “…the landlord’s going to say, ‘Hey, you chose to come here,'” says Meyer.
For now, Sutton and Meyer hold fast and believe that better days are ahead for the tenants of Dubuque.
“My heart goes out to people who…are forced to live in substandard housing. I know that destabilizes them, I know it makes their children unsafe, I know it makes families suffer,” said Meyer.
But first, they believe the best course of action is to bring the problem to light.
Sutton is in the process of asking more tenants come forward with their housing issues. She asks anyone who would be willing to share their story to get in touch with her. You can do so by sending her a message through her Facebook page: “Lynn Sutton – Dubuque Community Activist”.
Ben Friedman is an anchor and associate producer for LCTV News. He is a sophomore at Loras College from Ankeny, Iowa. Ben enjoys LCTV because it gives him an opportunity to combine creativity and storytelling in a way that helps him provide value to his community.