Facts must drive council affordable housing vote

With the threat of floodwaters rescinded, members of the Cedar Rapids City Council are poised to throw off the shackles of community goodwill. Unfortunately, pesky facts about a proposed mixed-income housing project remain as sturdy as temporary flood barriers.

Fact: Walking away from Commonbond Communities’ proposed 45-unit housing project along Edgewood Road means walking away from $280,000 for the sale of city-owned land and $8 million in federal tax credits awarded through a site-specific Iowa Finance Authority demonstration grant.

The vast majority of the housing units — all but five which are reserved as homeless supportive housing — are market-rate or earmarked for people who earn 60-to-80 percent of the area’s median income level.

The Tree of the Five Seasons in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The Tree of the Five Seasons in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Fact: Commonbond Communities has been in the housing business for more than four decades and has a remarkable, positive track record of partnering with communities and keeping its promises. The organization is working with Willis Dady on the supportive housing units, which is a local organization with its own remarkable and positive track record.

Area neighbors will experience better water drainage following improvements to the now vacant lot.

Fact: Emergency services officials have no concerns about the project hindering their ability.

Fact: The project does not generate enough traffic to warrant a full traffic study.

Fact: A larger and more dense housing complex is already adjacent to the site.

Fact: More than 600 students enrolled in Cedar Rapids last year were homeless, some attending schools that service the proposed site.

Fact: At any given time, between 2 and 3 percent of all Cedar Rapids’ housing stock is vacant. About 40 percent of area households are burdened by high housing costs, which negatively affects all aspects of the local economy.

Fact: Even most of the neighborhood residents who oppose this project discuss the need for Cedar Rapids to obtain more affordable housing options.

Fact: Isolating or limiting affordable housing to one section of a community leads to negative academic and workforce consequences.

Despite all of these facts, Crestwood Ridge remains in jeopardy. Neighborhood residents, voicing long-held and widely disproved myths about affordable or mixed-income housing alongside already mitigated concerns specific to this project, are loud and adamant with their calls of “not in our backyard.”

The blame, some officials say, rests on the shoulders of project organizers who failed to make the facts clear.

Like members of the Planning and Zoning Commission, they are willing to hide behind vague platitudes about how this proposed project “just isn’t a good fit” while ignoring facts that prove otherwise.

This is a movie we’ve seen before. And, God help us, if council members succumb to the noise and refuse to base their decision in reality, this is a movie that will be replayed again and again.

It won’t matter how much a project is needed, the track record of the developer or the long-term benefits to the neighborhood and city. All that will matter is how loudly and often misconceptions and untruths can be repeated.

Being a leader isn’t always easy or comfortable. Leaders take a stand when facts differ from assertions, however widely held and loudly voiced those assertions may be.

Come Tuesday, when council decides this project’s fate, we’ll know who shirked the responsibility of elected office and how many leaders emerged. And we won’t forget.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally appeared in The Gazette on October 22, 2016. Photo credit: Liz Martin/The Gazette