The various genres of jazz that will be heard around Greater Des Moines this month will carry a common message.

 

Polk County Housing Trust Fund, a sponsor of Metro Arts Alliance's Jazz in July series, will use its year-old "Can I Be Your Neighbor" campaign to deliver the message that Greater Des Moines is hurting for affordable housing.

 

"The goal is to make sure that folks understand that affordable housing is a community asset, not a neighborhood liability," said Eric Burmeister, executive director of Polk County Housing Trust Fund.

 

Though the message is gaining some steam, it still has difficulty settling in, especially in neighborhoods and communities that are suspicious of developers who propose housing that will accommodate the metro area's low-wage workforce, those individuals who provide the services that make life easier for the high-wage workers we tout in economic development projects.

 

"Any time new development comes into an existing neighborhood, it creates disruption and sometimes when that new development is affordable housing," Burmeister said. "Folks become needlessly alarmed that the character of their neighborhood might change."

 

On the other hand, the people who need that housing typically are forgotten when communities stir some excitement over multimillion-dollar developments, the kind meant to attract professionals and other high-earners who are drawn to the areas' retail and entertainment amenities.

 

"One of things I like to say is that as a community, we like to talk about how well we do in economic development, and every time a company announces it plans to hire a few $100,000 workers, we rejoice, but they need services," Burmeister said. "All of those things they require and expect are provided by a service workforce that we need to take care of as well.

 

"The fact is that we as a community have a segment of our workforce that makes less than $15,000 a year, and those folks who work in that service workforce need to have housing they can afford."

 

That message has taken form around the housing trust fund's "Can I Be Your Neighbor" campaign, which was launched in April 2013.

 

"The entire idea of affordable housing is now being discussed in terms of community and economic development, as opposed to the old way that we used to talk about, which was a social service concern," Burmeister said.

 

He hopes the discussion can filter to the neighborhood level. To that end, Polk County Housing Trust Fund will have Neighborhood Passports for Affordable Housing available for people attending the 16 Jazz in July concerts this month. The passport will be stamped at each of the events for a chance to win prizes and learn about the demographics of the neighborhoods where the concerts are held.

 

Prize baskets at each concert will contain items from neighborhood businesses. At the end of the Jazz in July run, Polk County Housing Trust Fund will have a grand prize that contains items from all neighborhoods.

 

The demographic information about each neighborhood alone is worth visiting the concert venues. Click here for more information about "Can I Be Your Neighbor."

 

When will Burmeister know that he has a hit on his hands? "When Polk County Housing Trust Fund begins to develop trusting relationships with neighborhood groups so a civil discussion of affordable housing in existing neighborhoods can be developed," he said.