County and city officials gather for quarterly joint meeting

BY BEN MARKS | JANUARY 27, 2015 5:00 AM

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Iowa City hosted a joint meeting on Monday afternoon with several other municipal officials — including those from North Liberty, Oxford, and Solon — to discuss affordable housing and the Iowa City School District’s controversial diversity policy.

The officials at the meeting also received updates on the North Liberty sewer project, the local-option sales tax, and budgeting for a community ID program.

Officials began by discussing a letter that the Iowa City School Board sent last fall to various mayors in Johnson County, including Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek and Coralville Mayor John Lundell.

The letter asked each municipality to create policies regarding inclusionary zoning, as well as “reinvest in areas of our community where there is socioeconomic isolation and place restrictions on rental units and rental density.”

The letter concluded by asking the cities to address the housing discrepancies and to form a joint task force to do so. At the meeting, details about a task force were hashed out, but no concrete action was taken.

Hayek addressed the ways Iowa City has handled the requests presented in the letter, saying the city has invested “significant funds” into parks identified as being in higher poverty areas, such as Wetherby Park, and Terry Trueblood Recreation Area.

He also discussed capital investments including streets, streetscapes, and underground utilities in higher poverty areas.

Hayek reported earlier this month the city began to create an inclusionary zoning pilot project in the Riverfront Crossing District.

“We are assembling a group of stakeholders, the development community, the housing providers, the nonprofit arena to try to come up with something that makes sense,” he said.

Despite this, Hayek said, even if the pilot project goes well, it’s not probable that a blanket, citywide inclusionary zoning policy will be developed.

He also stressed that while zoning issues are important, they are long-term solutions to issues that may not be long-term problems and said the policy doesn’t make much sense in areas that are already developed.

Lundell said the Coralville surveyed its number of multifamily units and found they were being underutilized. Coralville is looking for “creative funding sources” to support rehabilitation to get them operable again.

The city is looking at housing targeted at the senior population, he said, citing a trickledown effect as seniors move into a housing project aimed at them, which opens up much smaller units that are affordable for other community members.

North Liberty Mayor Amy Nielsen said her town has recently hired a rental inspector to keep a trailer park and rentals up to code and livable, as well as allowing very dense single or multifamily development.

Coralville is scheduled to host the next joint meeting in approximately three months.

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