Staff Editorial

Housing commission revival is a welcome step forward

(File photo) Mayor Brad Hart speaks at the annual State of the City address, hosted by the League of Women Voters, at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. Hart gave his first address as mayor of Cedar Rapids and spoke about development goals for the coming year, including keeping flood protection a top priority. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
(File photo) Mayor Brad Hart speaks at the annual State of the City address, hosted by the League of Women Voters, at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. Hart gave his first address as mayor of Cedar Rapids and spoke about development goals for the coming year, including keeping flood protection a top priority. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Before winning December’s Cedar Rapids runoff election for mayor, Brad Hart promised to revive the city’s long-dormant Affordable Housing Commission. Hart and the City Council are preparing to make good on that pledge next week.

A resolution on the council agenda Tuesday outlines the parameters for a 21-member commission tasked with reviewing the city’s housing needs, finding ways to leverage resources to address those needs and identifying barriers to housing access, among other duties. We welcome its expected approval.

The original commission was created in 1991, and it operated for a decade before disagreements over its purpose led a series of mayors to leave its seats vacant. It remained in the city code, and we called for its revival more than two years ago. With a lack of affordable housing among the toughest challenges facing the city and region, we argued the need for such a commission is clear.

Council member Scott Olson, who chaired the original commission for nine years, called for its restart during his campaign for mayor last year. After narrowly beating Olson to make the runoff, Hart picked up the housing torch.

The council resolution assigns 13 commission seats to applicants from a list of social service agencies — Willis Dady, Catherine McAuley Center, Margaret Bock Housing, Waypoint Services, HACAP, Affordable Housing Network, United Way, Linn County Housing Trust Fund, Civil Rights Commission, NAACP, Iowa Legal Aid, Linn County Veterans Affairs and Linn County Community Services. Three seats would go to an apartment manager, realtor and landlord. And four members of the general public would sit on the commission, one from each quadrant.

“I’m very excited. This looks good to me,” Olson said Thursday after reviewing the proposal. He contends the list basically formalizes the original commission’s informal effort to draw its members from a broad cross-section of groups.

We’d note one downside of a prescribed list is some organizations involved in housing will be left out. We encourage the council to revisit its list periodically with the possibility of rotating in other organizations. We also would like to see at least one commission seat go to someone with experience living in an affordable housing development. Beyond that, we simply encourage residents to apply.

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And once the commission is up and running again, we’d like the council to consider providing it with funding. During last year’s campaign, Olson advocated for a $500,000 commission appropriation that would allow it to encourage local projects. We think that’s a good idea.

So Hart and the council deserve praise. Now we’ll be watching to see whether the commission becomes a true catalyst for action on housing issues. A promise kept is only the first step.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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