116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
NORTH LIBERTY — The two mayoral candidates in North Liberty outlined their plans for how the city should address population growth, affordable housing and inequities facing residents.
The candidates — council member Chris Hoffman and lawyer Mike Mbanza — will be on the Nov. 2 ballot and participated in the Wednesday evening virtual forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Johnson County.
Mayor Terry Donahue, a council member since 2008 and mayor since 2017, is not seeking re-election.
Hoffman, vice president of sales at Moxie Solar, said his 14 years on experience on the council would be an advantage if he is elected.
“In my time on council, I've had the honor of working with four mayors and 11 different city councilors,” Hoffman said. “Each of them has brought their own passion and abilities to serve North Liberty, and they've taught me a lot about relationships, our community and where our focus should lie.”
Mbanza, the executive director of Path of Hope, said he would bring a new perspective to the council to address issues residents are facing. He said he founded the nonprofit to help low-income families with housing, employment and transportation.
“The issues that we're facing today date from 10 years ago,” Mbanza said. “We still have the same issues, and I think that if they have not been able to be resolved, it's probably because there's an issue. There is a need for a new person to come in with new ideas to solve these problems.”
North Liberty saw its population increase by 53 percent in the past decade, from 13,374 in 2010 to 20,479 in 2020.
Mbanza said the "current city government is struggling to keep up“ with the city’s growth, which is why he’s running for mayor.
The city, he said, does not have its own transit service or paratransit service. The city contracts with Coralville Transit for fixed route bus service.
The city also needs more snow trucks and street sweepers, he said.
Hoffman disagreed that the city is struggling to keep up with growth, saying that since 2012 the city been able to stay ahead.
Hoffman said the city has invested in its parks and updated or renovated a number of city buildings.
The city, he said, has plenty of space and is not short on equipment or services as Mbanza suggested.
Candidates were asked how they would increase affordable housing and better diversify the city’s neighborhoods.
Hoffman said the city in the past decade has been working on “creating inclusive development” that isn’t just single-family homes.
"We've been on purpose trying to develop neighborhoods over the past 10 years that have a mix of homes that are single-family home, sometimes duplex, town homes or higher density in the same development,“ Hoffman said. “When you can do that, you bring a lot of economic diversity, cultural diversity and more inclusion into the city.”
Mbanza said he would like to see the city expand its Housing Rehabilitation Program to include people who live in apartments. Currently, the grant program is for homeowners.
“Low-income families will be the ones not to apply because they don't have a home. They live in apartments,” Mbanza said, adding he would like to see the city add more transitional housing.
Hoffman said the city is weeks away from having its first outreach and equity coordinator.
The person hired will lead initiatives and collaborate with staff on programs to support seniors, low-income households, non-native English speakers and people of color, according to the city.
Hoffman said the city has spent time listening to its residents and developed neighborhood ambassadors to strengthen outreach if people have questions or concerns.
Mbanza said he wants to continue to make sure the city is a place that everyone can call home.
He wants to make city departments and services more diverse to include people from different backgrounds “so everybody can feel welcome.”
He praised the work of Police Chief Diane Venenga and wants to continue establishing a relationship between the police department and residents of color.
“I want to make sure that … everyone feels that the police is working for them and with them,” Mbanza said.
North Liberty has been allocated $2.9 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds as part of the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. The fund is to provide relief for local governments with a population under 50,000.
Mbanza said the city should use the money to support individuals who were not eligible for federal stimulus checks, such as undocumented immigrants. Helping nonprofits also is something the city should prioritize, he said.
Another idea is to use the funds to open a free medical clinic in North Liberty so residents don’t have to travel to Iowa City or Cedar Rapids for services, he said.
Hoffman cautioned against “duplicating services” and mentioned having a free medical clinic in North Liberty “is not a good use of resources here.”
“We have community organizations, such as DVIP (Domestic Violence Intervention Program), Shelter House, our food pantry, for example, that can do a multiple of good simply by being able to be in more than just one community,” Hoffman said.
Due to the one-minute time limit for answering questions, Hoffman did not have time to say how he would like to see the city spend the federal pandemic funds.
The forum is available for viewing below or on the League of Women Voters of Johnson County’s Facebook page.
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