Doug Boothroy retired last week after 42 years of working for the city of Iowa City, with most of his career spent leading Housing Inspection Services. This department, which in 2014 merged into Neighborhood and Development Services, inspects more than 8,800 rental units a year and works with property owners, managers and tenants to ensure conformance with Iowa City’s housing code.
Boothroy has been instrumental in efforts to increase affordable housing in Iowa City, which is why The Gazette wanted to know what he’s thinking about this key topic.
Q: Affordable housing seems subjective. How does Iowa City define this?
A: We have an affordable housing program that is trying to provide housing at about 80 percent of the area median income. The other way we’ve dealt with affordable housing in Iowa City is we’ve addressed it in our subdivision code, our zoning code, where we’ve narrowed lot sizes and given incentives for smaller house sizes. That’s market-rate housing, but because of how it’s designed, it’s affordable to people who may make more money than 80 percent of median income, but can’t afford to buy really expensive homes.
Q: Iowa City has a shortage of affordable housing and a low apartment vacancy rate overall. What contributes to that?
A: The university impacts that a great deal. We’re building so much new student housing close to campus, we expect it will have some impact as we get farther from downtown on that vacancy rate. When you see that vacancy rate get higher, you’re going to see more affordable rents.
Q: Iowa City developed its first inclusionary housing ordinance in 2016 at Riverfront Crossings, south of downtown. What does that mean for affordable housing?
A: I was involved in discussion with council about requiring 10 percent of residential development be set aside for affordable housing, 60 percent of median income (for rental units). One of the things that made that attractive is we took land down there and gave them substantial density. We’re trying to incent growth.
Q: Is this affordable housing requirement only for Riverfront Crossings?
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A: When we do any kind of tax increment financing for residential development, the committee recommended a floor of 15 percent (affordable housing) for 20 years.
Q: With high demand for rental housing, how do city inspectors make sure landlords keep apartments safe and clean?
A: We went to a two-year inspection cycle for all rental properties (about 15 years ago). The larger apartment complexes with professional management were not having as many issues with maintenance as single-family converted houses and duplexes, particularly on the north side. We went with a more aggressive program in that area to ensure those houses were better maintained.
Q: You decriminalized zoning and nuisance violations. How did that result in positive change?
A: Around 1987-88, I discovered if there was a zoning violation or nuisance-type violation, often it was a criminal penalty. The burden of proof was beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a very high standard. A (news) article said instead of using criminal code to prosecute, decriminalize it and have a civil process. The court, at that lower level, could provide relief and order corrections. The light bulb went off and I thought, “This is a great idea.”
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