Madam Speaker, I rise today to ask the House of Representatives to join me in recognizing Mr. Eric Burmeister, Executive Director of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, as this week’s Iowan of the Week.
Iowans have been through a lot recently. Along with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have also experienced extreme drought, a derecho, and some communities are still recovering from last year’s floods. One common issue families are facing as the result of each of those circumstances is a rise in housing insecurity, whether by damage to the home itself or loss of income to pay for housing. For far too many in our state, this basic human need is at risk. And if a basic need like housing isn’t met, parents will struggle to maintain steady employment and children will not learn as well in school. There is no facet of life untouched by this issue.
Eric Burmeister and his team at the Polk County Housing Trust Fund (PCHTF) have been fighting tooth and nail to make sure our most vulnerable neighbors have somewhere stable to call home. Not only does the organization lead local efforts on planning, advocating, and funding for affordable housing in the state’s most populous county, its team also finds meaningful ways to help individuals through housing challenges.
Recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in evictions in Polk County and across the state. To combat the issue, Burmeister, along with the PCHTF and Iowa Legal Aid, came up with a new program to help renters avoid eviction. Implemented nearly a month ago, the project is set up just outside Polk County's eviction court to connect tenants with legal assistance and immediate rental assistance. Funded by $800,000 from Polk County's share of federal CARES Act funding, the emergency program provides low-barrier funding that can cover rent through the end of September and as far back as March 15. Burmeister’s goal for the program is to provide one more reinforcement in the safety net to help Polk County residents avoid homelessness during the pandemic. Since the program began Sept. 1, it’s already helped prevent 61 evictions affecting 149 residents, 77 of them children.
Eric has been involved in affordable housing advocacy for decades. He came to the PCHTF in 2010 after a thirty-year career in real estate development and finance. A graduate of Drake University Law School, he has represented developers of notable commercial and residential redevelopment projects in the Des Moines metro area, including the historic Kirkwood Hotel, Brown Camp Lofts, and the Newin Dairy Lofts. Burmeister also has a long history of involvement in the Des Moines community, serving in leadership positions with The Polk-Des Moines Taxpayers’ Association, The Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute, and most recently on the Executive Committee and Board of Trustees of Grand View University where he teaches part-time in the business department. He stays active in several Des Moines neighborhood associations and is currently serving on steering committees as a community representative for affordable housing issues.
Through his tireless dedication to addressing this issue and finding countless ways to get involved in his community, Eric shows us what it means to be an Iowan. Since before I took office, I’ve said the best problem solvers live right here in Iowa’s third congressional district. Eric’s sensible solution to help his neighbors avoid homelessness during a global pandemic is one more example of that fact. I’m forever proud of Iowans like him who have stepped up to the plate to help address this pressing issue. I will continue to promote and push for legislation in Congress that enables organizations like the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, Iowa Legal Aid, and advocates like Eric to work towards their goal of affordable housing and eradication of homelessness. It is my privilege to recognize Eric Burmeister as Iowan of the Week.