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Iowa City officials discuss Affordable Housing Action Plan

City council prioritizes, gives input on staff recommendations

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IOWA CITY — City officials promised to complete all their Affordable Housing Action Plan recommendations by the end of 2017.

The plan consists of 15 methods to improve affordable housing in the city, a few of which already have been started or completed. During its work session Tuesday evening, the Iowa City Council refined and prioritized each method.

Staffers presented recommendations to the council in June. Since then, staff developed a website to explain the plan, held an open house for public input and received Housing and Community Development Commission, or HCDC, thoughts on the plan.

“I’m extremely proud of the work our staff did in preparing that draft plan,” Mayor Jim Throgmorton said. “The whole combination of effort is really quite admirable, and I’m very very pleased with the product we came up with.”

Iowa City has struggled with affordable housing as of late — with the loss of the Rose Oaks apartments and the potential displacement of residents in Forest View Trailer Court.

One point in the plan could help residents such as these who lose their low-income housing. As the recommendation is written now, site plan approval would be required by the council if 12 or more families would be displaced and there is no accompanying rezoning required.

This recommendation also would require a transition plan and mailings for residents and would encourage a “good neighbor” meeting.

Council member Kingsley Botchway II said this recommendation was his “highest” priority.

“I feel pretty strongly about doing what we can,” Botchway said.

Council member Susan Mims expressed concern over the council’s true authority over approval of site plans if they meet all the requirements — that it would be simply a formality. She said she feared this would give the public a false sense of the City Council’s power.

Throgmorton requested City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes work with city staff to draft an ordinance that the council could consider in the near future.

Another major talking point among council members was a proposed line item on the budget to aid affordable housing growth. The original action plan called for between $500,000 to $1 million, depending on that year’s budget, while the HCDC recommendations called for a required $1 million each year.

A few council members were concerned that requiring $1 million each year would strain the city in difficult budget years.

“That’s a really dangerous precedent to set,” Mims said. “Let’s shoot for $500,000. But we’ve got to do it in the framework of the whole budget.”

Council member John Thomas said he thought the City Council would be behind the $1 million commitment per year because housing funds often don’t go far.

“Frankly, I was thinking we’d be going into this with a higher aspiration,” Thomas said.

City Manager Geoff Fruin said because the line-item recommendation does not have to be implemented until the fiscal 2018, conversation can continue.

Fruin said city staffers expect to return to the City Council in the next month or two with execution plans for each item. He also said staff would calculate projections for how many units of affordable housing the action plan should add over the next three to five years.

Residents can review all 15 recommendations on the city’s Affordable Housing Action Plan page.

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