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Housing crisis addressed

BY REBECCA MORIN | OCTOBER 08, 2013 5:00 AM

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With the debate of implementing affordable housing within one of Iowa’s most expensive counties to call home, local residents and officials are trying to create new ways to address the issue.

“Affordable housing is the No. 1 problem in Johnson County today, so it’s a really big deal, and sometimes a hard issue …” said Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan, adding that the issue should not be tackled on a countywide scale.

“It makes more sense for the solution to be located in the cities,” he said.

The Housing Trust Fund of Johnson County is offering a special round of $275,000 in funding for projects pursing low-income housing tax credits.

With about 80 units of publically assistant housing and approximately 1,250 housing vouchers, there still is a need for an additional 2,700 rental units in the area.

“We just don’t have enough affordable units, and a lot of people who work full time simply cannot afford rent,” Sullivan said. “People come here for more job opportunities than in rural counties, and a high percentage of their income goes toward rent.”

In honor of the U.N. Habitat Day, the Iowa Valley of Habitat for Humanity held a forum Monday evening aimed at addressing the need in the county.

In addressing a small gathering, one local consultant looked to the idea of offering incentives to private developers as a way of solving the affordable housing situation.

“One [incentive] would allow a unit size reduction, so if it’s zoned a certain way you can build houses a little smaller and more densely located,” said Sally Scott, an Iowa City community development consultant. “Fee waivers or fee reductions may also be an option.”

As of August, the average price for a home in Iowa City was $221,256, said Steve Long, the Iowa City community-development coordinator.

In Iowa’s second-largest city, the Cedar Rapids average housing price was $182,149 in August 2013, according to the Cedar Rapids Area Association of Realtors.

While this need persists, it has not gone completely ignored. Among other programs for help with housing costs in the area, UniverCity Neighborhood Partnership purchases homes in select areas around the University of Iowa campus and downtown using low-interest loans provided by several local lenders. The housing-stabilization and neighborhood-rehabilitation program was launched in March 2010.

“What it does is it provides another housing option that didn’t exist for a lot of people wanting to live closer to the downtown area,” said Steve Long, the Iowa City community-development coordinator. “There are not a lot of options and prices an owner can get to rent the houses.”

With six out of every 1,000 housing units empty, there are several solutions that local officials hope to address in the upcoming area city council elections.

“Who’s elected makes one hell of a lot difference, and so my plea to you all is I’m glad you’re interested in the housing unit and help make others concerned about it and go to the cabinet forum and go and raise this issue,” said Bob Welsh, a local community member at the forum Monday night. “There will be other elections coming up, but who we elect makes one heck of a difference.”


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