Iowa City City Council candidates focus on housing, Southeast side is cheering


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This year, there will be three vacant City Council spots to fill, and prospective candidates are hammering out their platforms.

Aside from common subjects such as the state of the economy, the 21-ordinance, and downtown development, some candidates are dedicating their platforms to Iowa City’s long-standing social tensions. These include such varied issues as affordable housing, transportation, and recreation that are fundamental to our growing community.

The increasing focus demonstrates a willingness to address some of the most important issues in Iowa City — encouraging in a town that prides itself on liberality while struggling with diversity.

Many of Iowa City’s social tensions stem from its shifting ethnic dynamics. This is particularly the case with the Southeast Side, an area with an unfounded bad reputation for crime in which residents often feel ignored and worries about affordable housing run rampant.

Jim Throgmorton and Dan Tallon, both candidates for the District C seat being vacated by Regenia Bailey, have voiced that affordable housing is on their campaign agenda.

Throgmorton, a UI professor emeritus of urban and regional planning, told the Editorial Board that he doesn’t like to talk in terms of issues but rather in terms of challenges. He said the social tensions in Iowa City are a big challenge and need to be faced, with the changing needs of the housing market as a key point.

Throgmorton’s other key points include helping the school system adjust to the changing needs of the student body, ensuring that criminal-behavior laws are fairly enforced throughout the city, and helping to engage school-age youth who move into Iowa City.

Tallon, who is serving a tour in Afghanistan, is a product of public housing himself.

“When I was young, my family stayed in public-assistance housing for several years, but we were able to move out and my mother was able to buy a home,” Tallon wrote in an e-mail to the Editorial Board. “She was able to do that because affordable housing existed in Davenport. We had a three-bedroom home for a price my mother could afford with two children and two jobs.”

The Iowa City City Council has hit the affordable-housing ball around for the last few years, finally deciding on a computerized model this year after asking for more data and debating inclusionary zoning, which would require evenly distributed affordable units in new housing developments.

Tallon proposes that as a councilor, he would sit down with builders and discuss incentives to make 10 percent of a new subdivision affordable housing. He also supports using tax-increment financing responsibly but maintains that it is not the only option available. Other options, he wrote, would depend on the meetings with builders.

“Affordable housing is a tool by which communities can grow and families can prosper,” Tallon wrote.

He believes that in order for this to work, affordable housing should not be contained to the Southeast Side; it should be spread throughout Iowa City. He also stressed the need to focus on business development and growth across all areas of Iowa City.

Throgmorton also emphasized that the social tensions in Iowa City are not bound to the common notion of Southeast Side versus everyone else.

“The social tensions do not highlight the Southeast Side,” said Throgmorton, who has previously participated in efforts to fight the area’s “stigma.” “No one person can solve these problems, nor can the Iowa City City Council solve them by itself. These social tensions are a region-wide challenge and affect everyone who lives in the region.”

These perspectives are encouraging. The Southeast Side has been a topic of renewed consideration among all Iowa City residents; a documentary screened this spring sought to candidly portray issues of class and ethnicity in our mostly white, mostly middle-class city, and efforts to plan its future have recently made headway.

It’s too soon to endorse City Council candidates, but we hope that other candidates who throw their hats in the ring, whether for the District C seat or not, will highlight these important issues. Not only does a frank willingness to confront the needs of a changing city promise good things for Iowa City’s future, but candidates who face these problems head-on also force their constituents to confront all-too-pervasive biases.

In a city that purports to be liberal and forward-thinking, it’s a welcome addition to the public dialogue.

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