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Editorial: Address economic segregation in Iowa City

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | FEBRUARY 27, 2015 5:00 AM

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A recently published Martin Prosperity Institute study titled “Segregated City: The Geography of Economic Segregation in America’s Metros” reports, “America has long been divided between the rich and the poor. But the gap is widening.”

Some parts of the country, however, feel this divide more than others.

Iowa is home to two of the most segregated metros on the roughly 350-area list. Ames ranks eighth-worst on the list, while the Iowa City metropolitan area ranks 14th-worst, according to the report.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes that it is time for Iowa City put forth more effort to address the issue of poverty segregation.

As the study explains, college towns dominate the worst part of the list, placing Iowa City and Ames in the company of several other university towns. Included near the top are State College, Pennsylvania, (Penn State); Ann Arbor, Michigan (University of Michigan); Madison, Wisconsin (University of Wisconsin); Boulder, Colorado (University of Colorado); and Champaign/Urbana, Illinois (University of Illinois).

The report attributes this trend to the geographic split between students, staff, and faculty and the rest of the towns’ service workers. While those associated with the university tend to cluster near the campus itself, others in the town move further away. This split is referred to in the report as the “Town-Gown split.”

“Segregated City” goes on to note that university expansion tends to add to this problem, as urban neighborhoods are taken over by the school.

This past December, The Daily Iowan’s Nick Moffitt reported that the Iowa City City Council unanimously voted in favor of using tax-increment financing to support housing for the workforce market. The Housing Fellowship would manage the development and the $1.8 million TIF would be paid with a nine-year rebate, Moffitt reported.

While this step in the economic development of Iowa City was certainly a positive one, by itself, it does not contribute enough to decreasing the poverty segregation of the city. The Town-Gown phenomenon is not enough to justify Iowa City falling where it does on this list.

And while it may be unlikely that Iowa City, or any other college town on the list, will be able to eliminate this split, other initiatives ought to be put in place to address the economic discrepancy.

The UniverCity Neighborhood Partnership, already in place, functions to diminish the gap by converting homes into viable low-cost single-family residences in neighborhoods surrounding the university campus.

The initiative is helping with poverty segregation, to be sure, but according to the latest community profile from ICgov.org, there were 11,200 family households in the greater Iowa City area as of 2007. Since its creation, UniverCity has renovated 40 homes and expects an additional 16 to be completed in 2015.

UniverCity is an impressive and worthwhile endeavor, but in order to improve the poverty gap in Iowa City, this program cannot act alone. An increase in the number of residences associated with this program would be excellent, but the Editorial Board believes that additional programs must also be implemented to see a difference.


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