Council to move on affordable-housing

BY DANIEL SEIDL | MAY 05, 2014 5:00 AM

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Affordable housing could become an option closer to downtown.

Iowa City officials seek to add more affordable housing into the developing Riverfront Crossings district, which is bounded by Burlington Street in the north, Highway 6 on the south, Gilbert Street on the east, and Orchard Steet and Riverside Drive on the west.

“The need for affordable housing is definitely there,” said Iowa City City Councilor Rick Dobyns. “The Riverfront Crossing will have a different look, but I think affordable housing can fit in almost anywhere.”

The council will vote at its Tuesday meeting to set a public hearing to discuss amending the Downtown and Riverfront Crossing master plan. The plan outlines construction in the district.

The Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved the amendment last month, which would add a section on affordable housing to the plan. Commission member Carolyn Dyer said the amendment would provide developers with benefits to building affordable housing in the area.

Dyer said if developers in Riverfront Crossings area choose to include affordable units, they would be allowed more units per square foot than provisions would ordinarily permit.

The Downtown and Riverfront Crossings master plan covers a significant portion of Iowa City, and Planning and Zoning Commission member Charles Eastham said this makes it important to have a variety of housing available.

“The Riverfront Crossings area is a large development area,” he said. “We need to make sure that there are some homes that affordable to people.”

Creating an environment for more affordable housing in Riverfront Crossings could help address a need for affordable housing in the city, Dyer said. Officials currently assist 1,200 low-income families acquire affordable housing in Johnson County. The Housing Authority division works with roughly 450 landlords.

“There’s a shortage of affordable housing in Iowa City,” Dyer said. “This would be at least encouragement to build affordable housing.”

Dobyns said Iowa City needs a more consistent approach to address this issue throughout the region, and this could be a step in the right direction.

“There are more municipalities in the university area than just Iowa City,” he said. “All municipalities need to have a similar approach to affordable housing. I just think it needs to be a regional approach.”

While the amendment would lead to some changes in the plan, the overall goal would stay the same, Dyer said.

“The city’s comprehensive plan … calls for housing to be mixed throughout the city so that there are a variety of kinds of housing,” she said. “There are plans for different densities of housing.”

The amendment would by no means require developers to build more affordable housing, Dyer said.

Instead, it would just provide more of an incentive for a variety of housing, which would meet with the city’s comprehensive plan.

The city will invest in Riverfront Crossings, and this amendment would help make the area more consistent with the community, Eastham said.

“This is an area of the community where the city is investing a significant amount of public funds,” he said. “It just seems reasonable to us to provide for some homes being developed.”

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