City councilors unanimously agreed Tuesday there is a need for more affordable housing, and cities though Johnson County must collaborate to address the issue.
Councilors agreed to flesh out ideas of how the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County, an organization with representatives from local governments, could approach the Housing Trust Fund of Johnson County to create a regional approach affordable housing strategy. The ideas would be presented at a November MPO meeting.
Affordable housing is a topic leaders in Iowa City have attempted to tackle over the last few years. City officials have acknowledged the need for more affordable housing, and a 2007 study quantified the need. The Iowa City School District has also tried to address student poverty rates, measured by the disparities in free-reduced lunch rates.
Councilor Susan Mims noted the school district’s situation as a reason other municipalities across the county should “step up to the plate with us” to address providing low-income housing.
“My thought at this point is we have a school district that crosses many boundaries, and issues they’ve been getting, children of different socioeconomic situations spread out, that it behooves us to look at this from a more regional basis rather than taking all the responsibility to generate more affordable housing in Iowa City,” Mims said.
The Iowa City Council has made efforts to prevent concentrated areas. The council adopted a model in 2011 that prevents city-controlled money to be put towards new housing projects or land acquisition in areas where a concentration of low-income housing exists. Officials say that plan has worked, but available funds are less than $1 million a year and Section 8 and privately-owned housing are exempt from the policy.
Councilor Jim Throgmorton said to best address the issue, “we need good hard facts about spacial distribution of low to moderate income homes in the county.”
Councilors agreed a map should be developed outlining the spacial distribution of lower income levels by school district and municipality.
Steve Long, community development coordinator, also suggested the changing MPO criteria to including criteria for affordable housing to give people low-income housing options where they want to live.
“Affordable housing doesn’t have the same municipal boundaries,” Long told The Gazette. “ If there’s a job in Coralville but you’re not able to live close to where you work, maybe there’s a place where there should be an opportunity.”
A countywide committee recommended a regional approach in 2010 but said each community is ultimately responsible for themselves. None of the committee’s three recommendations has been implemented.
The council also decided at their work session to not sell any public housing units. Doug Boothroy, the city’s housing and inspection services director said sequestration impacted federal funding and had recommended the city maintain its 81 public housing units to continue generating enough to remain sustaining. The funds generated from tenants rent goes back into supporting Section 8 housing.
Councilors tabled Boothroy’s suggestion of whether to build additional public housing to be dispersed across the city that could then be sold at some point. Boothroy stressed if the city did eventually decide to sell any homes, they couldn’t do so until it became vacant.