116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — The city will use federal pandemic aid, supplemented with local funds, to help residents of the increasingly dilapidated Forest View Mobile Home Court move after an ill-fated deal on rezoning the property was approved in 2019, council members informally agreed this week.
Residents of the park off N. Dubuque Street and south of Interstate 80 were promised new homes as part of a deal the city made with a developer in June 2019. The plan was for 73 acres that includes the mobile home park to be redeveloped with a mix of housing and commercial space.
But the proposed development will not be moving forward due to economic conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, land owners previously told The Gazette.
The city, while not legally obligated, is proposing a voluntary relocation program funded by federal American Rescue Plan Act aid and local funds to help the families find safer and more stable housing before the park closes, as is widely anticipated.
At a work session in March, the council agreed the city should provide relocation payments and heard from city staff about a voluntary relocation proposal. Council members agreed with the assistance amount of $15,750 per household and for families to have until Dec. 9 to vacate the mobile home park.
During a work session Tuesday, the council agreed funds should be available to all households living in the mobile home park during the approval of the conditional zoning agreement in 2019, even if they have since moved.
“Those (households) there at the signing of the CZA, they were given that hope and dream of having safe, affordable homes, and I saw the condition of some of those homes that had been abandoned. … They were not livable,” said council member Pauline Taylor.
City Manager Geoff Fruin estimates there were between 82 and 87 households living in Forest View at the time of the agreement. Currently, there are between 55 and 59 households there.
The total cost of the relocation program could range between $1.3 and $1.4 million. Local funds used could range from $250,000 to $400,000, Fruin estimated.
Fruin said the city could make a “strong case” for the use of ARPA funds going back to March 2020, when the pandemic struck, but there is a “degree of uncertainty there.” A specific date haw far back ARPA funds could be used for the program still needs to be figured out.
“The most that we can use the ARPA funds makes a lot of sense,” Mayor Pro Tem Megan Alter said.
The city will use local funds for households who moved out before the ARPA eligibility date or who earn more than $40,626 annually, which is the U.S. Treasury’s maximum household income to be considered disproportionately impacted.
Fruin estimates there are at least five households who moved out of the park before March 2020. There are at least seven households above the income threshold.
Fruin said the Forest View Tenants Association is working to confirm the income level of 16 households.
Urgency for solution
Council members expressed the need for urgency in developing this program and getting funds to residents as soon as possible, especially given the renting cycle in Iowa City as students compete for units, too.
“Now is the time we need to be doing this,” Alter said.
“The clock is literally ticking here,“ Taylor added.
Mazahir Salih, former mayor pro tem and current executive director of the Center for Worker Justice, wrote in an email to the council that many leases begin in August and residents of the park have already started renewing their leases.
“In order for tenants to be able to look for a place to live and pay their deposit, they will need their relocation money in May instead of June,” Salih wrote in the email, which was included in the council’s agenda packet.
Salih also said residents will need at least half the funds upfront to cover moving expenses and a security deposit, instead of the 25 percent recommend by city staff. The council appeared to be in favor of increased amount. Residents will receive the other half of funds after moving out of the park.
Next steps and challenges
Fruin said city staff should have everything needed to begin putting together a program. The next step, he said, is for the council to vote on a resolution to formalize the program.
Staff has already started to develop forms and explore what language translation services for residents of the park would be needed, Fruin added.
“I think we can move pretty expeditiously on this, but we have to expect that there's going to be some individual cases that are going to be tough to work through,” Fruin said.
Sara Barron, executive director of the Johnson County Affordable Housing Coalition, told The Gazette the coalition supports the city providing relocation assistance to residents.
“We're really behind that and think it will be a really important part of ensuring that they have stable housing after they leave Forest View,” Barron said.
Giving money to residents upfront will help residents find housing and broaden their housing opportunities, but not every resident will be able to find housing right away, Barron said.
“The housing market is in some chaos right now across the country because the pandemic,” Barron said, adding how some landlords might be raising prices or exercising discretion on who they rent to.
“All those things are presenting barriers to people throughout Johnson County, and Forest View residents won't be immune from that,” Barron said.
Barron said she met with residents this week and said they are excited to have an answer and more clarity on the path forward.
“I know that they will continue to take care of each other and use that collective power that they’ve built to keep moving forward,” Barron said. “The story isn't over yet, and we're going to make sure that no path is unexplored.”
Comments: (319) 339-3155; email@example.com