Iowa City Council candidates discuss housing, transportation

Five on the ballot for three open seats in Nov. 7 election

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IOWA CITY — When Iowa City voters head to the polls Nov. 7, they’ll be choosing three City Council members to help lead the community through complicated issues like increasing affordable housing and improving transportation.

In all, five candidates are running for three seats — the open District B seat and two open at-large seats on the seven-member council.

Incumbent Kingsley Botchway II, community organizer Mazahir Salih and Iowa City Downtown District Nighttime Mayor Angela Winnike are running for the two at-large positions. The top vote-getters will win the seats. University of Iowa student Ryan Hall and current at-large council member Susan Mims are running for the District B seat. Eligible voters citywide may vote in all the races.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

The Iowa City Council recently has turned its attention toward creating affordable housing with the adoption of the Affordable Housing Action Plan. The plan has 15 action steps, including an affordable housing requirement for the Riverfront Crossings District.

However, last year saw the loss of one of the city’s most affordable apartment complexes, Rose Oaks, to a redevelopment. Additionally, the average rent in the city, $865, and the percentage of residents in poverty, 28.2, remains higher than the state averages, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Hall said he wants to include what families are paying for utilities in the affordable housing conversation as well.

“Part of my campaign and part of my ethos is around trying to perform environmental justice and that, for a lot of folks, means alleviating their cost burden on utilities. Which many people in our community are not provided an efficient or comfortable home due to our housing crisis. And so they pay an exorbitant amount of money on utilities, and I hope to see that change,” Hall said.

Winnike said the city has more of a housing issue in general, rather than only a lack of affordable housing.

“We’re on the right path to creating more affordable housing, but I think just allowing for that density and upward growth in our community is what we need to help resolve some of our housing issues that we have,” Winnike said.

TRANSPORTATION

The quality and convenience of the city’s public transportation system also has come into question during the campaign. During weekdays on most routes, the bus system offers buses every hour during much of the day, with more frequency during rush hours. But the city offers no service on Sundays.

“I think low-wage workers, they need transportation on Sunday, after hours like second shift,” Salih said. “While I talk to people in this community, some people have great ideas but they cannot participate on, like, City Council meetings, school board meetings, because transportation ends early in some parts of the city.”

Additionally, a lack of transportation has been cited as a barrier to services like food pantries. In a 2016 report from the Johnson County Hunger Task Force, 22 percent of food pantry survey respondents said transportation to and from the pantry would improve their access to food.

Mims said the city’s philosophy of trying to cover as much of the city as possible has resulted in many empty or near-empty buses at times.

She suggested options like van pools or taxi vouchers might be more efficient and cheaper.

“We’ve got to get people from different perspectives at the table — what are their needs?” Mims said. “I think we have to look creatively at how we provide that transportation. I do not think we can use fixed bus routes to provide all the transportation that’s needed.”

Botchway said he believes public transportation needs to be treated as a regional issue, and employers should have input on as well.

“It’s a regional issue but nobody wants to take that step forward and kind of plant that seed to say, ‘We’re going to do this in this particular way’ and we have to,” Botchway said. “Employers are employing people that they’re not thinking about how they need to get to work. ... How do we collaborate together with leadership at different organizations and really get this done? But it has to get done.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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