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Survivors say Iowa building collapse has left its close-knit community in ruins

The tenants of 324 Main St. fled their homes "with just the clothes on our backs." Now they are trying to rebuild their lives.
Image: Six-Story Apartment Building Partially Collapses In Davenport, Iowa
A worker walks by a six-story apartment building in Davenport, Iowa, on May 29, the day after a section collapsed. Scott Olson / Getty Images file

The Davenport, a residential complex in eastern Iowa that partially collapsed last month, was home to a “close-knit” group of residents who came to know each other through crossing paths in the halls, said onetime resident Lisa Dahnke, 42. 

It was a “great big family, a friend community,” she said, adding that residents would frequently share meals with each other at their units.

But now their home has been destroyed. The six-story building at 324 Main St. crumbled on May 29, killing three residents and leaving dozens without homes. While the collapse came as a shock, it was preceded by months of complaints about structural and managerial failures. 

“It’s all gone,” Dahnke said. “We all literally walked out with just the clothes on our backs.”

The night of the building collapse, the displaced residents gathered in a back alley near the rubble. “We cried together,” she said. “It was a sad silence as we all just sat there and watched everything unfold."

Toriana Hill, 29, said the strong communal ties within the building helped them figure out who was unaccounted for. 

Hill said the day before the catastrophe, she ran into Brendan Colvin, who died in the collapse. She said he asked her about how her new puppy was faring.

When she later heard of his body being recovered from the site, she said she “didn’t want to believe it because I’m like, ‘I just saw him yesterday, literally just talked to him.”

Since the collapse, Hill has been operating on autopilot mode, she said. At times, she wakes up in the middle of the night “completely confused” about her whereabouts, disoriented after abruptly fleeing her home.

“It’s just an eerie feeling,” she said. 

Personal belongings in a collapsed  section of an apartment building on June 5, 2023, in Davenport, Iowa.
Clothing still hung in a closet in a collapsed section of the building June 5. Charlie Neibergall / AP

Hill, mother of a 3-year-old, was homeless following financial woes and family trouble in the six months preceding her move into the Davenport. She toured a model apartment at a nearby location that she was told resembled her unit, and received photos of her apartment that she described as “beautiful.” 

But, upon arrival, she said “it wasn’t even habitable for humans.”

Right before Christmas, Hill said a kitchen cabinet fell on top of her head while she was cooking. She also said she did not receive the correct keys from management to access her apartment initially. “I always left my door open for the first two months.”

The Village Property Management did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment.

In a statement obtained by NBC News following the structural catastrophe, Andrew Wold, owner of the property, wrote, “Our thoughts and prayers are with our tenants and families during this difficult time.”

“We have been working closely with the American Red Cross and other agencies to assist the displaced tenants affected by this event. We are forever grateful to them for all of their assistance with our tenants."

Fearing being homeless again for the second time, especially now with her young son, who lived with family members while she was in the shelters, Hill felt a strong sense of urgency to find a new place to live. She said she went “on foot,” gathering resources and information. Her efforts led her to secure a new apartment last week.

There is an estimated shortage of 6,000 homes to meet the demand of low-income housing in the Quad Cities region, a cluster of metropolitan areas in Iowa and Illinois, said Joshua Graves, a marketing content strategist at Humility Homes & Services, an organization that aids locals who are homeless.

The people in the Humility system have received temporary housing in hotels, he said.

“This is literally the fourth time in my life that I’ve had to start over from scratch,” said Dahnke, who initially moved into a $600 studio apartment at 324 Main St. with assistance from Humility. 

Dahnke said she thinks that the building management took advantage of some of its residents because they had been economically disadvantaged. “I was desperate for a place,” she said.

She said the attitude from building managers was, “‘Oh, you are homeless. Don’t complain. You got a roof over your head.’” Dahnke is using a $6,000 grant she received from the city following the collapse to continue paying for the motel room she has been placed in.

Protesters march in the street on May 31, 2023, at the scene where on an apartment building partially collapsed in Davenport, Iowa.
Protesters march May 31 at the scene of the collapse.Erin Hooley / AP file

Residents said that the building’s demographics consisted of a diverse and mixed-income group of college students, young professionals and formerly homeless individuals.

“These are people from all walks of life that are suffering,” said Broc Nelson, another resident who lived in the building for nearly four years before the collapse. He said the previous management team was responsive to maintenance issues, but when the building ownership changed hands, there was a sharp decline in maintenance.

“The building became very filthy,” he said. “I spent about three weeks this past winter without heat,” he added.

He was actively searching for new living situations for the last year, but did not find options comparable to the benefits of his unit in The Davenport. His rent was $575 and he lived close to his job, an important factor since he did not drive.

“I had no inclination that the building was in such disrepair that it would collapse. You know, I just thought, ‘Well, I should really get out of here.’”

Nelson said he would enjoy cigars and watch Star Trek with Ryan Hitchcock, who died in the collapse. “He was a very kind and wonderful man and will be deeply missed.”

Some residents are pursuing legal action against Wold in addition to contractors or engineers who worked on the building. Wold pleaded guilty on June 12 to a civil infraction for failure “to maintain the building in a safe and sanitary condition.”

“For the other 53 families, I just want them to know that they’re not alone,” Dahnke said. 

As for Hill, she said she has retained legal representation.

“They didn’t think we were gonna put up a fight for what we believe in,” Hill said. “If they thought it was over with, it’s not. It’s just the beginning.”