Base Crestwood Ridge vote on fact, not fear

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Cedar Rapids City Council members still have time to consider the merits of Crestwood Ridge, a proposed mixed-income housing development on the northwest side. Doing so would preserve an $8 million state grant, and prevent a dangerous precedent.

Crestwood Ridge would be developed by Minnesota-based nonprofit CommonBond Communities, and rely on local expertise from Willis Dady. The structure would offer 45 housing units, the bulk of which would be affordable to residents earning 60 percent of the area median income level.

Perhaps most desirable are the five housing units set aside as supportive living accommodations for the chronically homeless. Today, only eight such units are open to the general public in Linn County, which is far fewer than the number needed to turn the tide on homelessness.

Our first editorial regarding this proposal called for the city to listen to and address concerns raised by nearby residents. Questions regarding water runoff, traffic and general safety should be taken seriously.

Yet even though those concerns were mitigated, negative neighborhood sentiment remains. If anything, voices have increased in volume even as they cite concerns that either already have been addressed or never were valid.

Break through all the noise and what’s left are a group of residents who readily admit the need for this type of housing project, so long as it isn’t built in their neighborhood. City Council members have a responsibility to make decisions based on fact, not unjustified fears.

If they fail to do so, neighborhood after neighborhood will have learned this lesson: No valid reason is required to oppose affordable housing so long as you can scream the loudest. Look no further than Des Moines and Iowa City to view the practical repercussions of economic segregation.

In this climate, two of the city’s nine council members have chosen to recuse themselves from discussion and voting on the project.

Kris Gulick believes the project’s outcome could affect his company’s revenue. Fair enough.

Susie Weinacht cited “an abundance of caution” because she serves on another board “awarding financial support to this project.” She has not named that board, but it isn’t CommonBond, Willis Dady or the Iowa Finance Authority, which awarded the $8 million in housing tax credits that make up about 90 percent of total development cost.

The Cedar Rapids rules governing recusals of elected officials are extremely loose, but they rarely collide with such high-stakes decisions. Given the extenuating circumstances, Weinacht needs to be more transparent on the exact nature of her potential conflict. Voters have a right to expect their elected officials to fulfill their duties or fully explain why they can’t.

If the development isn’t approved, the city will step away from $280,000 from the land sale and the $8 million in federal housing tax credits. The competitive grant was site-specific, meaning that CommonBond cannot simply move the project to a different parcel of land. The Edgewood Road location was chosen because of its density level, access to public transit, proximity to commerce and many other factors.

Even worse, Cedar Rapids will have no prospects to curb the expensive patchwork of emergency services that’s inadequately serving those who are homeless. Taxpayers will continue to pay for the vicious cycle of emergency shelters, jails, emergency rooms and other medical services that aren’t part of a long-term solution.

Perhaps if CommonBond didn’t have a glowing track record throughout the Midwest, or if Willis Dady wasn’t a proven community partner, the fear could be justified. If the developers and project advocates were asking the city to invest so that this project could become a reality, there might be more to debate. If any of the concerns about traffic, flooding or disproportionate property densities were founded, we could understand hesitation.

Fortunately, there’s still time to set unjustified fears aside and consider this proposal on its merits.

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