Iowa City Council approves $250 payment for former Rose Oaks residents

Money to come from Affordable Housing Fund, help ease burden of forced move

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IOWA CITY — Moved by appeals that put a spotlight on the city’s striking lack of affordable housing, the Iowa City Council agreed 5-2 Tuesday night to let scores of tenants ousted from a working-class apartment complex apply for $250 per household in public money.

The money — which would come to $51,750 if all 207 qualifying households obtain payments — will come from the city’s affordable housing fund and is meant to ease the move from the Rose Oaks Apartments on the city’s southeast side.

“We’ve lost a community. We’ve lost a voice and there’s no way we are going to get that back,” said City Council member Kingsley Botchway II.

In March, Rose Oaks residents received a letter saying their leases wouldn’t be renewed because of extensive remodeling at the complex. College Fund Property bought the property in February and plans to demolish some buildings to build a pool and club house, renovate some units and add new ones.

The 21-building, 400-unit Rose Oaks had apartments ranging from $500 to $710 per month and were among the most affordable apartments in town, according to the City Council’s resolution. It is unlikely the rent there would be affordable to current residents after renovations, the resolution said.

Iowa City has an apartment vacancy rate of only 1.43 percent, and most of those units don’t count as affordable.

To obtain the $250 payments, each household will need to show it had a valid lease as of February and apply by Oct. 31.

Before the council meeting, the Center for Worker Justice held a rally outside City Hall where a couple dozen people gathered. Speakers agreed the $250 would help, but the city should do more for affordable housing.

Chantrice Horn, who said she signed a Rose Oaks lease in February, said that while the money helps — especially because she has a family — she hopes Iowa City can be an example for other cities going through similar challenges.

“My housing situation changed not because I wanted it to, not because I did anything wrong,” Horn said. “My children start school on the 24th. I would love to see them in a new pair of shoes.”

City Manager Geoff Fruin said that there are numerous instances across the country of public entities providing help to residents forced to relocate from privately owned housing.

In this case, Iowa law prevents the city from forcing the owner to provide relocation aid. Fruin said public funds usually have to be involved for the city to be able to require an owner to make such accommodations.

“Is this a perfect solution? No. It’s an imperfect solution to a crisis, a major crisis that occurred,” said council member Rockne Cole.

The city and the owner had initial conversations about using tax increment financing or other resources to ensure Rose Oaks would include affordable housing after renovations, but the talks fell apart.

“We had some initial discussion with the developers about ways we can ensure long-term affordable, but nothing came of those discussion,” Fruin said.

The council’s resolution isn’t the first time Rose Oaks tenants have received financial help.

The city gave residents $15,000 in HOME funds, or federal funds set aside for affordable housing projects, and Rose Oaks management paid $30,000 toward moving expenses, security deposits and rent payments, according to the council resolution.

Some residents had their leases extended to Aug. 1, and for those with later lease-end dates, the management also offered $500 to move.

Council members Terry Dickens and Susan Mims voted against the payments. Mims said that while she agrees the tenants have done nothing wrong, she said she disagrees with direct payments to them.

“There are procedures and processes in place for accountability,” Mims said. “My problem with this is the direct payment.”

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