Iowa City, UI look to diversify downtown with UniverCity


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As the Iowa City City Council prepares to vote on the sale of a seventh property at its meeting Tuesday, officials of the UniverCity program have begun planning for an expansion.

“We’d like to continue this program, probably not at the same pace, but in a broader sense to keep the awareness and the importance of the neighborhoods,” said Iowa City community-cevelopment coordinator Steve Long. “We’re not just focused on ownership, we’re also focused on maintaining safe, decent, and affordable housing for rental properties as well.”

Long said the next phase of the program will be to work on rental and home-ownership opportunities along with a local nonprofit — the Housing Fellowship — which will help the city acquire up to four properties.

UniverCity, which began in March 2010 after former Gov. Chet Culver awarded a $1 million affordable-housing grant, partners the city with the university in order to buy and restore 25 units near downtown. The UI contributed $200,000.

Each residence is allotted $50,000 in grant money. If the renovations exceed this amount, the homeowner then becomes responsible for the remaining costs.

On Tuesday, councilors will consider the sale of the single-family residence at 826 E. Davenport St., renovated under the UniverCity Neighborhood Partnership Program grant.

The listing price is currently $136,000 plus carrying costs. Renovations to the home include an updated kitchen and bathroom, refinished hardwood floors, and restoration of the original siding, said Sarah Walz, an Iowa City associate planner.

The families who buy the homes must meet an income criteria and make a five-year commitment to live in the house. Full-time UI employees who wish to purchase homes through the program receive assistance in making their down payment from the UI.

City Councilor Mike Wright said the program should help affordable housing to an extent, because the people moving in are not necessarily wealthy people, but that wasn’t the ultimate goal of the project.

“It’s more of a neighborhood stabilization program,” he said.

The overall goal of the program is related to helping create a healthier balance of rental and home ownership near downtown to help ensure the stability and safety of the neighborhoods, Walz said.

Although the program ends in December, it is just one step in the process of extending these goals.

“It’s a good first step,” she said.

University of Iowa spokesman Tom Moore said he is pleased with the progress made thus far, but he was unsure if it would help affordable housing.

“It’s difficult to speculate at this point,” he said. “The indicators are very promising [and] very encouraging.”

UniverCity officials said they think they are on the right track to renovate the remaining homes in the affordable-housing program. The program has exceeded their expectations, they said.

“It’s been incredibly successful,” Long said. “There’s excitement in the neighborhood about the program, and we have a waiting list of people who are interested in buying homes.”

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