Council to address housing issue at regional level


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Recognizing a need for additional affordable housing options in Iowa City proper, city councilors say the issue can be solved at a regional level.

The main reason, members outlined in a Tuesday evening work session, comes out of the idea that the primary local public-school system crosses city lines.

“When we have a School District that crosses many boundaries, and with the issues they have with children with different socioeconomic situations spread out, that moves us to look at this as a more regional basis rather than taking all the responsibility to generate more affordable housing in Iowa City,” Iowa City City Councilor Susan Mims said. “I think we need to try to get the other municipalities to step up to the plate with all this.”

Steve Long, Iowa City community-development coordinator, suggested that the council work with the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County, as well as the Housing Trust Fund of Johnson County to address Iowa City and the surrounding area’s affordable housing issue.

“I think the idea of working through the trust fund has promise,” City Councilor Jim Throgmorton said. “I think it’s a suggestion we should explore.”

Over the past five years, the city has assisted with the construction or rehabilitation of more than 160 rental homes through the use of Community Development Block Grant and HOME funds, as well as Low Income Housing Tax Credits and General Obligation Bond funds.

Nearly 200 affordable owner-occupied homes have also been created through the Single-Family New Homes program, the UniverCity Neighborhood Partnership program, and Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity.

However, according to the most recent study conducted in 2007 by Mullin and Lonergan Associates, Inc., there was an unmet need of 2,739 homes through the Iowa City metro area, Long said.

And although noting a large need in the Iowa City area, councilors are concerned with how to resolve diversity issues in the Iowa City School District, because it overlaps several municipalities.

“Spatial distribution matters because the whole conversation recently which is stipulated by [free and reduced lunch] rates in elementary schools and how our desire to help the School District implement a diversity policy to reduce the differences … so in able to do that we need good hard facts about spatial distribution,” Throgmorton said.

Councilors are also requesting more information on the city’s rent, housing prices, and income as well as the surrounding municipalities, to help tailor solutions specific to Iowa City’s needs.

“Now I think we’re trying to follow suit by trying to create another incentive, we don’t have to be like the other cities, but I think we can still lead; and we can still be ahead of the game,” Councilor Rick Dobyns said.

Doug Boothroy, the city’s director of Housing and Inspection Services, also suggested at Tuesday’s work session to continue keeping 81 units within public housing and to create and disburse more units throughout the city.

“There is really not much Iowa City can do to increase housing in Iowa City that people can afford our nearby communities also need something, if I hear that, I think that’s a mistake,” Throgmorton said. “We can be a lot more creative about what we could do to increase housing in Iowa City, regardless of what the neighboring city is doing.”

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