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‘Affordable housing’ for Iowa City on-hold

BY KATHRYN STINSON | MARCH 02, 2010 7:30 AM

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The Iowa City City Council on Monday night postponed discussion on implementing a comprehensive plan which called for creating neighborhoods with a mix of housing types and income levels.

The council voted 4-3 in favor of waiting to discuss a possible inclusionary zoning ordinance and to not pursue the development of six two-bedroom affordable housing units at 2500 Muscatine Ave.

Jeff Davidson, the city’s director of planning and community development, sent a memorandum to the council last week addressing inclusionary zoning. This type of zoning requires developers to designate a share of new residential construction for affordable housing.

Mixing affordable and market-rate housing in the same neighborhood may provide a wider rage of housing options to low-income shoppers than the market could do on its own, Davidson said.

The proposition could also help reduce a heavy concentration of low- to moderate-income housing in one area, which, he said, could create an undesirable living environment.

“There is general evidence that a high concentration of low-income housing can lead to high crime numbers. That has been reflected in changes in federal policy,” he said before the work session Monday. “That’s why we think the notion of scattering affordable units throughout the community to keep that concentration down is probably a good policy.”

Councilor Mike Wright said he supported the inclusionary ordinance and the proposed affordable units.

“We are all aware that we don’t have enough low-income housing,” he said. “Not just Section 8, but housing for people who don’t make a lot of money at their jobs.”

But Councilor Connie Champion seemed more hesitant. Instead, she said she supported the idea of city incentives for developers who include low-income units, but disagreed with an ordinance making it compulsory.

Though some argue inclusionary zoning could devalue home prices, existing mixed-income developments in Iowa City don’t support that notion.

For example, Windsor Ridge is a development in Iowa City that offers homes ranging from $127,000 to more than $500,000. The lower price point doesn’t seem to detract buyers from the higher-price houses, Davidson said.

“I think it is fair to say that poorly maintained and constructed housing will detract from a neighborhood,” he said. “I would suggest that well-made, well-constructed housing that is basically designed to fit into a neighborhood does not.”

Councilors plan to ask the Johnson County Council of Governments to review the mixed-housing issue at an upcoming meeting.

University of Iowa sociology Professor Kevin Leicht also acknowledged the importance of construction quality in order to maintain property values, but he noted there may be tensions between citizens of different income levels in one neighborhood.

“I generally think [inclusionary zoning] is a good idea, but people tend to think it will lower their property values and harm their neighborhoods,” he said. “Virtually every major city has tried it at some level; about the only [idea] that has seen some success is Section 8 housing.”


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