Council to study data in affordable housing decision


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Iowa City city councilors would like to disperse affordable housing among the various school neighborhoods evenly, and a new mapping software program may help.

Because officials say schools benefit from a balance of socioeconomic backgrounds, the $2,500 Geographic Information System mapping program will show councilors where certain data are located in the city. They can construct maps according to information about household income, how often students switch schools, and which schools have a large amount of free- and reduced-lunch students.

Councilors approved the cost of the program at their work session Monday night.

Iowa City School District Superintendent Steve Murley told The Daily Iowan that while dispersion of students in affordable housing is something of interest to School District officials, it will not have a huge effect on the elementary schools.

He said the boundaries are re-evaluated every year so it will be easy to react to any decision the council makes.

"Neither one of us are static anymore, so we have the ability to work together," he said.

But he did stress the importance of having "well-balanced" schools.

"Research shows kids from a school that has a wide socioeconomic background do better," he said.

It is also important for families applying for affordable housing to be able to avoid changing schools, said Tammy Spies, a project manager at the Housing Fellowship and former affordable-housing tenant of 14 years.

"Sometimes people apply for housing and they already have children in schools that they love," she said.

It was important for Spies to find housing near her son's school when she lived in affordable housing, she said, and a variety of housing locations makes that easier.

The Housing Community and Development Commission receives around $1.5 million to $2 million annually from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The money is used to fund a variety of projects, including affordable housing.

At their last meeting in October, officials said they would not be able to decide the exact guidelines for affordable-housing zoning until they had more information on a variety of issues, including the average income of various neighborhoods.

In March, the council declined to build an affordable-housing project on Muscatine Avenue, postponing discussion about a comprehensive plan until their Oct. 26 work session. That decision led the Housing Fellowship to accuse the city of discrimination. In a letter, City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes responded saying the city had done nothing illegal.

Discussion on the topic is scheduled to continue through December.

Councilor Susan Mims said the council's ideas on where to place housing still needs development.

"We're going to have to come up with very specific targets," she said. "We have a whole lot more work to do."

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