IOWA CITY — Despite high rents and low vacancies in the area, Iowa City has seen a wave of its least-expensive housing options on the drawing board to be redeveloped in recent years.
In 2016, College Fund Property, the new owner of Rose Oaks Apartments, announced it would not renew residents’ leases because of extensive renovations. The Iowa City Council voted to give each household $250 to aid in residents’ relocation.
Since then, the council has put forth affordable housing strategies, including policies to help tenants who have been displaced. These include council approval of any major site plan that would displace 12 or more households but does not need a rezoning.
These are part of a larger 15-step Affordable Housing Action Plan, which was adopted by the council in September 2016.
The city’s comprehensive plan — a document that provides city officials and staff, developers and residents with a guide to future growth and change — also now includes a goal of mitigating impacts of the redevelopment of existing multifamily residential homes by encouraging communication and development of transition plans for current residents by a developer.
Transition plans are meant to better inform both residents and the public about redevelopment projects and work to accommodate any relocation needs of residents.
Iowa City Council stayed a public hearing Tuesday on the rezoning of a redevelopment at 1705 Prairie du Chien Rd., which is expected to displace about nine households in Hawkeye Trailer Court, according to a memo sent to the council by Sarah Walz, assistant planner.
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The hearing and first council vote on the rezoning is rescheduled for May 15 because the development agreement had yet to be finalized by Tuesday’s meeting.
While the Prairie du Chien redevelopment doesn’t meet either threshold in the city’s new displacement policy, because it does need rezoned and doesn’t displace 12 families, developer Ross Nusser held a community meeting in February and contacted each resident. The city and developer also are working to find relocation funds for the households, according to the memo.
When the city provided relocation aid to the Rose Oaks residents, the payments came from the city’s affordable housing fund.
One resident of Hawkeye Trailer Court, T.K. Ford, said he has lived in the trailer court for 35 years because it’s the “cheapest place in town.” Ford, 66, said he pays a lot rent — $175 — and he said he’s hoping to find a spot in an affordable housing development in Riverside because he can’t afford anywhere else in Iowa City, he said.
“It’s just something to deal with,” Ford said. “Like any move, it’s just a super hassle for a little bit ...”
Still, one couple submitted their concerns to the city council, saying they couldn’t move their trailer because of its attached garage and they couldn’t afford rent on any other lot. They added that they’d be willing to move for a price that would cover moving costs.
“We would be forced to move away from our home, our jobs, our lives in Iowa City. We would essentially have to buy a home and build a new life elsewhere,” read a public letter to council signed by residents Emma and Sebastian Sines.
The Hawkeye Trailer Court residents face a similar situation to what Forest View Trailer Court residents saw in 2016. Back then, North Dubuque LCC and Blackbird Investments announced they would redevelop the trailer park and the surrounding area in a new 70-acre development.
This work, however, would have displaced about 95 families.
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Included in the residents’ relocation plan, though, are rent-to-buy prefabricated houses for the residents to move into on another piece of the property as well as some moving expenses or replacement housing payments for those who choose not to stay.
The Center for Worker Justice helped work with Forest View residents during the relocation plan process. The organization’s executive director, Rafael Morataya, said most of the residents involved two years ago still remain in their homes at Forest View and had an opportunity to tour one of the new prefabricated homes in April.
Jimmy Becker, project manager for Blackbird Investments, said developers are hoping to break ground on Forest View redevelopment by the end of the year.
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