Name: Ryan Hall
Address: 200 S. Summit St., Iowa City
Seat seeking: District B
Educational background: Pursuing Undergraduate Environmental Planning degree, University of Iowa
Why are you running for council?
Hall: I am running for council because I believe that Iowa City can be leading the way in sustainable development, green and clean energy job creation, and equitable planning and zoning to improve housing and lower cost of living. I also want for Iowa City to continue standing up for our immigrants, undocumented folks, communities of color, and refugee populations. It is important that we recognize that many folks in our community are struggling to make ends meet and deserve to have their concerns heard and adequately addressed. I see great potential when I see Iowa City.
I take issue with some past use of TIF to help wealthy developers build projects, but I am encouraged by the progress being made recently to bring all voices to the table to negotiate what growth and development looks like so it can benefit the whole community. I am running to continue building these bridges. There are sizable gaps between developers and residents, the University and the City, and the “haves and have-nots.” I think we must have a serious community dialogue and plan about where we are heading and who is benefiting from the plans we have in place currently. I am campaigning in the hopes that we can address all these issues of justice and equity. It is a long-term discussion and plan we must have, but we must expand the discussion to those who have been historically disenfranchised from having a voice in the decision-making process.
What are the three largest issues facing the city? How will you address them?
Hall: I strongly believe that the largest issue in Iowa City is affordable housing and cost of living. This community is becoming increasingly unaffordable for many people, whether it is a working-class immigrant family, or a rural student from Iowa who now must take out even more in loans to afford to live here. We must be incredibly cognizant of the financial struggles many face in this community while also acknowledging that inaction on this issue limits access to an economy and education for many people who wish to live here.
Another issue I see facing Iowa City is our limited ability to practice Home Rule and act independently, particularly when it comes to decisions around wages, housing occupancy, public worker rights, among others. Iowa City implemented innovative solutions to work around some of these issues like extending contracts with public workers so that their bargaining rights and benefits are protected. I believe that Iowa City must continue to be innovative, lobby Des Moines, and build collective momentum around issue to see that they get solved.
A third issue facing Iowa City comes from an angle of sustainability. The flood in 2008 devastated our local economy and infrastructure, and we must do more to make sure that we are better prepared for such a disaster. These 100-year floods are becoming much more common and we need innovative and proactive solutions in place to reduce these negative effects. This means looking at how we use our green spaces, how we are capturing rain and stormwater, and re-evaluating our water infrastructure. Iowa Citians deserve clean water, should provide communities downstream from us with clean water, and we should be resilient when it comes to a future natural disaster. Acting on climate change can help provide for green and clean energy jobs and end up saving us money in the long-run. With my knowledge of renewable energy and energy efficiency during my time in Green Iowa AmeriCorps and the Winneshiek Energy District in Decorah, I am ready to introduce policy and community-based solutions to be on that cutting edge of sustainable development while also making our community more fiscally and institutionally prepared for the future impacts of climate change.
With developments taking place on the city’s Riverfront Crossings Park and district, additional projects are expected to follow in rapid succession. How do you feel about what has taken place so far and do you want to see anything change or done differently?
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Hall: I am encouraged by the dialogue and negotiations made surrounding some decisions around Riverfront Crossings such as inclusionary zoning. This was an example of how a committee of housing advocates and developers can collaborate on affordable housing requirements. Developers want consistent and reliable requirements and many community members want to see development as a benefit to the whole community. This is not an easy thing to accomplish, but with this example and the current example of Forest View where many stakeholders, including residents, community members, businesses and developers can all have a voice in the process, we can move the community forward together in a way that respects the wishes of all parties involved.
I think that if we wish to expand affordable housing and build a more sustainable community, we must encourage a stronger policy on the number of affordable housing units as well as require more clean energy/efficiency standards on new development. On that note, I do not want this to be a top-down decision made by city council, but rather a responsive and all-inclusive decision made from community input.
Downtown and the Pedestrian Mall updates continue to expand in Iowa City. However, some have criticized the city for putting too much focus into the downtown area, while ignoring other outlying neighborhoods. How much attention should be placed on downtown and is enough attention being paid to neighborhoods?
Hall: I strongly believe there is a balance to be found between the Downtown area and the surrounding neighborhoods when it comes to attention and investment. We should encourage the growth of a vibrant Downtown area, but we cannot ignore the needs and concerns of neighborhoods throughout Iowa City. People may visit Iowa City for our Downtown, but they are likely to stay because of our beautiful neighborhoods. I have spoken with many folks in the core neighborhoods that have communicated a sort of neglect, especially when speaking about the use of TIF and seeing development only take place Downtown. I think that we can help create more vibrant, sustainable, and economically viable neighborhoods when we look intentionally at what their needs are. I personally do not think that neighborhoods are getting the attention they deserve. Iowa City’s core is in the neighborhoods. I want children and their families to be able to walk and/or bike to their schools, to local businesses, and to community parks and resources. Since our city has sprawled out in the past few decades, we must look at how spread out our resources and our people are. If we are to embrace the sprawl and absorb the effects of it, then we must look at developing more our neighborhoods.
In the 2015 city election, development was the topic of discussion, with voters in that year ousting most incumbents and bringing in then-newcomers with a more conservative approach to large-scale development and tax increment finance incentives. How do you feel about the last two years of council development? Are you happy with the new direction, does it feel the same, or are there things you’d want to see change?
Hall: I feel very confident in the progress made in the last two years with our current council. We have seen relationships improve between residents, community members, housing advocates, developers, and businesses. We have learned that we can all come to the table to tackle complex issues in the community while still providing for a growing Iowa City. I am happy with this new direction of collaboration and forward-thought. We are still seeing the pre-2015 council policy take place, such as the TIF implementation with Hieronymus Square. The developer paid a fee-in-lieu of providing the 15% affordable housing requirement and I am critical of the old policy that allowed for this. I hope that in the future use of TIF we can secure this 15% requirement alongside disallowing the sunsetting of these affordable housing units to remain after the TIF has run its course. I wish to see this more comprehensive affordable housing requirement in place when utilizing TIF. I also wish to see more bold energy and efficiency standards, such as LEED silver or higher, to be placed on building development if the use of TIF is involved. I would like to see new construction be cognizant of climate change and prepare us for a green and clean energy economy. Incentivizing higher energy standards pushes the local job market to provide for more green job training and education. In Iowa City and in this state, we need to be leading the way in this green job future. I want the use of TIF to reflect our community’s values when it comes to sustainability.
Iowa City — and cities across Iowa — could face revenue losses as the state revenues remain tight. The state is threatening to do away with the backfill funds it provides to communities in an effort to balance its budget. How would you balance the city’s budget if the city were to lose funds? What funding priorities do you have?
Hall: If the city were to lose funds we would have to look at efficient ways to make up for shortfalls. Luckily, the City of Iowa City has a well-equipped professional staff that is very knowledgeable about the budget and ways to balance it. We must still maintain the Aaa bond rating and low-interest rates so that growth can still occur in a budget crisis. When it comes to generating more revenue to make up for losses, I would consult the professional city staff, financial experts, community members, and other stakeholders to come up with solutions. I would speak with Dennis Bockenstedt, our financial director for the City of Iowa City, along with our city managers to address this potential issue. We may look at a local-option sales tax to help balance the budget. I have strong reservations about a local sales tax due to its regressive effect on lower income individuals and households. This option will require much dialogue between many parties about the implementation and impact of this sales tax. One other option may be to raise our property tax levy to counteract a budget shortfall and still provide essential city services, but this should come as a last resort solution. I would like to prioritize the funding of public transportation, affordable housing, and the implementation on the Bicycle Master Plan. I believe that we can alleviate a significant amount of financial stress on members of the community by addressing these three areas (among others).
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Affordable housing has been an ongoing issue in Iowa City. How serious do you feel this issue is? What efforts do you believe are successful and are there additional ideas that could be tried?
Hall: As a renter and a working-class college student, I feel the seriousness of this issue personally. I hear from students the ludicrous amounts of money they are spending on rent and I hear of their frustrations. They supplement this high cost of living with student loans and end up graduating with even more debt. It is no wonder that these same students leave Iowa City to find better paying jobs because our high cost of living here has driven them out of this community. I hear the same from long-term residents who are either renters or own property that is disproportionately more expensive in Iowa City than most places in Iowa. This is an intersectional issue that I hope to address and bring more voices into.
I will look to current solutions such as inclusionary zoning, 15% requirements associated with TIF projects, the UniverCity program, among others. I think that we must expand upon these solutions and their successes. That may look like increasing the affordable housing requirement in inclusionary zoning and TIF. This may look like utilizing the Affordable Housing Trust Fund in innovative and efficient ways such as investing in a community land trust.
I think we must also look at the impact the University of Iowa has on the housing market and prices. Is the University building enough student housing? Can they do more to develop affordable and sustainable housing? As a student and as a potential city council member, I will be happy to engage in these conversations with the University community.
I also will look to the expertise of those who have worked tirelessly around this issue like Sara Barron of the Affordable Housing Coalition, Jerry Anthony at the School of Urban and Regional Planning, among other folks with a wealth of knowledge and experience.
What other big issues would you like to see the council address in the next few years?
Hall: Down the road, I think the City of Iowa City must be looking forward and leading the way in where the economy will be moving toward. As someone with fresh eyes and a new perspective, I think that this movement is in job automation, driverless and electric transportation, renewable and mostly electric energy systems, 3-D printing, local food production, and artificial intelligence. We can put in place now the incentives to bring in these businesses, incubate them from the skills and minds that we have here in Iowa City, and lay out a bold vision for a more equitable and sustainable future.