Name: Elizabeth Dinschel
Address: 2257 E. Grantview Dr., Coralville
Seat seeking: At Large
Occupation: Historian, federal employee
Educational background: B.A. History and Political Science; M.A. History; Graduate minor in Public Administration.
Why are you running for council?
Dinschel: I am interested in running for office because I am concerned that more than half of Coralville residents are cost-burdened by housing. As a person who grew up poor and spent my early adult years struggling to make ends meet, this is an issue that is deeply personal to me.
I hold BAs in History and Political Science and an MA in History with a graduate minor in Public Administration. I have worked in local, tribal, and federal government positions, worked with budgets, and I am an advocate and activist for the community. I am truly a public servant.
What are the three largest issues facing the city? How will you address them?
Dinschel: Three of my major priorities are developing affordable housing options, improving public transportation, and developing city support for growing small businesses in Coralville.
Next summer, Coralville’s now 20-year-old tax increment finance district for Coral Ridge Mall expires, opening up millions in additional property tax revenue annually. For Coralville, that means about $2 million added each year to the general fund. How would you like to see that money used?
Dinschel: I would like to see money from the mall TIF released into the general fund allocated to the housing trust for vouchers and some of it cycled into property tax relief for homeowners.
I would also like to develop a more robust public transportation program that would include a Sunday schedule and work closely with Johnson County and surrounding cities.
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The Iowa River Landing continues to grow in Coralville, with housing, storefronts and a soon-to-begin arena project all taking place. However, some have questioned if the area should be offering more affordable housing opportunities. Is this something lacking — or are there other elements missing — in the IRL area? What do you want to see added as development continues?
Dinschel: Affordable housing is certainly an area that requires more development and could be part of a walkable, high density area like the Iowa River Landing. Additionally, residents of Coralville have told me that they feel like IRL caters to high-end retailers and does not feel like a space for all of the residents of Coralville. The addition of some small businesses and affordable retail or restaurant shops.
Coralville — and cities across Iowa — could face revenue losses as the state revenues remain tight. The state is threatening to do away with the backfill funds it provides to communities in an effort to balance its budget. How would you balance the city’s budget if the city were to lose funds? What funding priorities do you have?
Dinschel: This is a big question that will require input from several experts. I certainly want to advocate for an outside, independent review of the city’s budget and a transparent process to prioritize and stabilize the budget with the community.
Where do you see growth occurring in the city in coming years? What should the city do to manage it?
Dinschel: I believe there can be major growth in small businesses in Coralville. I would like to see efforts in education- to help aspiring entrepreneurs develop business plans, understand permitting processes, and establish relationships with financial institutions for loans. I would like to see the city offering low interest micro loans to businesses and I hope the city can develop an economic development office to help guide the city’s growth.
Additionally, I think it will be important to develop a committee of small business owners so they can communicate with council and be mentors for other small businesses.
What other big issues would you like to see the council address in the next few years?
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Dinschel: Over the next few years I would like to see major steps taken to support equity in Coralville through affordable housing, transportation, and supporting small businesses. I also want to mention that I want these conversations and decisions to happen in a transparent atmosphere with serious efforts to support community discussion and public comment.
Affordable housing is not just the cost of maintaining shelter, but also includes availability of housing, wages, and access to transportation. Coralville has grown nearly 20% over the last decade, demographics have changed, and we need a more inclusive approach to housing availability and costs. There are people in Coralville with fixed incomes who are concerned about rising costs of property taxes on their paid off homes, retail and hospitality workers who cannot afford to live in Coralville, and families who cannot afford to buy homes- all scenarios that are important to me and the city.
I believe we can fix these important problems and I want to lead the efforts by working closely with neighboring governments and community coalitions in several ways. First of all, I would like for the city to apply for competitive federal grants to help residents get housing vouchers. Secondly, I would like to see some nonprofit owned and managed developments that will accept vouchers because private landlords are not likely to reduce rent down to the voucher levels. I would like to see money from the mall TIF released into the general fund allocated to the housing trust for vouchers and some of it cycled into property tax relief for homeowners. I would also encourage more high density development that can work for lower income residents- especially seniors and disabled citizens who depend on fixed incomes.
I want to work with the county, university, and surrounding cities to develop a bus schedule that includes later schedules and a Sunday schedule. With growing hospitality jobs in Coralville, 2nd shift and Sunday schedules are vital for the employee and the employer. I am also concerned that there is no public transportation for children who attend Liberty High School who need to catch a bus back to the Kirkwood district.
I really believe a consolidated county transit system would be the best thing for the county, but I understand there are serious hurdles and protocols that make that difficult. I believe with serious cooperation and work with the county, cities, and university, we can work out a transportation system that works for Johnson County and its changing population.
As mentioned before, I would like to see steps taken to support and grow small businesses through education, micro loans, and building a small business committee to facilitate open communication between council and small business owners. The committee also will support transparency and developing robust conversations about the economic future and outlook for the city.
Alleviating the cost of housing for all income levels in Coralville helps to promote a vibrant economy where people have more access to disposable income and it builds a more reliable workforce. I want to have robust community discussions about how affordable housing is extremely important to the continued success of Coralville’s businesses and the growth of the city.