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Iowa City officials speculate housing issues could complicate diversity policy

BY STACEY MURRAY | APRIL 30, 2013 5:00 AM

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Johnson County officials have called for more discussions in regards to affordable housing following the passage of the Iowa City School District’s diversity policy.

Officials on Monday discussed the need for equal opportunities for affordable housing; it could conceivably make the distribution of students difficult because affordable living would be concentrated in some areas and not others.

“We’re trying to keep that from happening,” School Board President Marla Swesey said. “Maybe we can start talking about how we can do it.”

School Board officials passed the contested diversity policy in February following months of discussion.

The policy aims to balance the socioeconomic levels throughout the district by distributing the percentage of students participating in the free- and reduced-lunch program across the district. 

Currently, schools across the district vary as much as 65 percent. in that regard.

City Councilor Rick Dobyns said that under the theory that free- and reduced-lunch levels correlate with affordable housing, a failure to maintain homogenous affordable housing could create a fluctuation in these rates and cause students to be bused farther across the district in order to balance the socioeconomic levels.

Officials said they want to maintain a balance across the district and it would be easier if the community planned for better growth throughout.

“There needs to be a balanced approach,” School Board member Jeff McGuiness said. “When you have one segment exploding in growth when others don’t, you end up with inequitable facilities.”

Discussion for this issue began years ago.

The affordable-housing subcommittee made recommendations in 2010 for members of the Johnson County Council of Government entities, including Coralville, North Liberty, Lone Tree, and Iowa City, to form a consortium for the Federal HOME Investment Partnerships Program funds. The consortium would provide an outlet for the cities to engage in regionalism for affordable housing.

No consortium was formed following the recommendations, and the lack of action could complicate the implementation of the diversity policy.

But officials are now calling for discussion because of potential issues for the implementation of the diversity policy.

Supervisor Chairwoman Janelle Rettig said the dispersion of these housing opportunities are “100 percent a city decision.”

She said the county would be willing to move forward with a partnership among the cities in the county, but the housing itself is an issue to be dealt with at a city level.

“To think we don’t have a housing problem is wrong,” Rettig said.

Coralville recently blocked an effort for a regionalized effort, but Rettig said numerically, it doesn’t make sense to go ahead without it.

Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek said this would be an opportunity for the different cities to work together for the School District.

“This is a great example of why regional collaboration is important for this area going forward to create better outcomes long-term,” he said.


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