Statewide conversation on affordable, supportive housing begins

Statewide conversation on affordable, supportive housing begins

Gazette Column
Spotlight reveals challenges within the Creative Corridor DUBUQUE — Every county in Iowa lacks a sufficient number of affordable housing units, which, in turn, contributes to the prevalence of homelessness most apparent in the state’s population centers. Although intensity varies, this lack of housing is a statewide challenge that affects the ability of communities to attract business and sustain a workforce, the need for taxpayer-funded safety net programs and overall health and well-being. So, this week, the Iowa Finance Authority launched the first of three statewide conversations on housing with a specific focus on the overwhelming need for supported living arrangements. “What we’ve learned from recent experiences in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City,” explained Carolann Jensen, chief programs officer with the IFA, “is that the push for housing, especially supportive…
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Affordable housing tour offers necessary spotlight

Affordable housing tour offers necessary spotlight

Gazette Column
Work on a project for months, put your heart and soul into it and, even so, you’ll be hard-pressed to pick it out of the pack. This is the lesson lost to those who skipped the Cedar Rapids Metro Affordable Housing Bus Tour last Thursday. “I think we’re coming up on it now,” Jeff Capps, executive director of Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity, said from the front of the bus, holding onto the back of a front seat while bending and swiveling to peer out the windows. “Pretty sure we’re getting close now,” Renie Neuberger, Affordable Housing Network director of real estate development, said later in the drive while striking a similar pose. “It will be on your right. It’s painted green,” directed Ron Ziegler, executive director of Hope Community…
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Leadership is more than words

Leadership is more than words

Gazette Column
More ideas on how Cedar Rapids can attract and sustain affordable and supportive housing were introduced Wednesday, but it remains to be seen if any attracted a champion. Local groups affiliated with a five-year federal demonstration project, Partners United for Supportive Housing in Cedar Rapids (PUSH-CR), gathered other agencies to produce the Cedar Rapids Supportive Housing Forum. And, to the organizers’ credit, several key local players were present to hear from leaders in the field, local and national. Deb De Santis, president and CEO of New York-based Corporation for Supportive Housing, provided the keynote by outlining the benefits of housing that includes wrap-around support services and some of the innovative ways communities around the country are rethinking the problem of homelessness and funding projects. “People talk about the immediate cost…
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Jobs and housing go hand-in-hand

Jobs and housing go hand-in-hand

Gazette Column
Two news items caught my eye last week — one a human interest piece, the other a business announcement. Yet at their heart, they pointed to the same need. Gazette business reporter George C. Ford detailed plans by an Alliant Energy subsidiary to launch a 1,300-acre mega commercial and industrial park near The Eastern Iowa Airport. The development, made possible by an agreement to sell family farm lands, would benefit from the state’s first certified super park development, also nearby and being developed by the airport, and a first-of-its-kind freight and logistics hub planned by the Iowa Department of Transportation. The mega park known as Big Cedar, the transportation hub and complementary super park received praise from state officials, who dubbed the projects as critical economic drivers for the region…
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Facts must drive council affordable housing vote

Facts must drive council affordable housing vote

Featured, Gazette Column
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. Fact: 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. [caption id="attachment_82" align="alignright" width="300"] The Tree of the Five Seasons in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Liz…
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White House Housing Toolkit a good start

White House Housing Toolkit a good start

Gazette Column
Have outdated and onerous zoning ordinances and environmental protections stifled housing development and local economies? A new federal report says they have, contributing to issues such as income inequality, gentrification, strained safety nets, commute lengths, racial segregation and homelessness. The past few days have been nearly overwhelming. We survived (and at least partially mitigated) another historic flood, did our best to absorb this election season’s first presidential debate, and remain in mourning for the latest young life claimed by senseless gun violence. It’s little wonder a new housing report didn’t spawn big, local headlines. [caption id="attachment_150" align="alignright" width="640"] (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)[/caption] Yet this White House produced “toolkit” offers a road map not only for the housing-strapped California coast, but for Midwestern cities like Iowa City and Cedar Rapids as they…
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Champions needed to address homelessness

Champions needed to address homelessness

Gazette Column
DES MOINES — From tiny homes to renovated hotel properties, people across Iowa and the nation are coming together in new ways to tackle the issue of homelessness. Yet in the Corridor we seem to be missing a foundational piece of the puzzle. In the small western Iowa town of Mapleton, five churches support “God’s Little House,” a property that was once slated to become a parking lot. Now it provides emergency or transitional shelter for area residents in the wake of natural disasters or visitors in other times of need. Between now and Christmas, volunteers in Des Moines will be spending part of their weekend pulling an 8-foot by 12-foot tiny home, dubbed “Tabitha’s House,” to church parking lots. Once in place and plugged into a wall outlet, the…
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Make Cedar Rapids zoning inclusive

Make Cedar Rapids zoning inclusive

Gazette Column
DES MOINES — The City of Cedar Rapids is in the process of updating its zoning code and, after attending the 2016 HousingIowa Conference this week, I’ve got an idea. I’d like to say that what I’m proposing is something new and radical. But it isn’t. In fact, it is a type of zoning that’s been used in Montgomery County, Maryland, since 1974. [caption id="attachment_150" align="alignright" width="640"] Housing development in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Presenters at the 2016 HousingIowa Conference made a pitch for inclusionary zoning. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)[/caption] Iowa City has discussed it for more than a decade, and has managed to partially implement it. Inclusionary zoning, also referred to as inclusionary housing this week at the conference, is term for local planning ordinances that require a given share of…
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One less housing option

One less housing option

Gazette Column
Enacting justice reforms that include early release of nearly 1,000 non-violent drug offenders will spike demand for affordable housing. And, in Cedar Rapids, there’s one less option. In a column published the week Gov. Terry Branstad signed the criminal justice reform bill, I noted opportunities for ex-offenders to access housing and employment are few and far between. Not only will the state need to revisit the nearly 650 “tough on crime” era laws that restrict the rights of former offenders, but more integration opportunities need to be developed if society expects assimilation and productivity. To that end, my last column included a call for more ex-offender housing options like the Mary Lundby Townhomes in Cedar Rapids. “Check your facts,” a reader and former Lundby Townhome resident replied, adding the that…
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Investment must follow Iowa justice reform

Investment must follow Iowa justice reform

Gazette Column
What will Iowa communities do with the nearly 1,000 non-violent drug offenders made eligible for early release by the justice reform bill signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad this week? Or maybe the better question is what will those rejoining society do with themselves? Many ex-offenders return to families or friends in old neighborhoods, although that often means renewing connections to the people and circumstances that led them to crime. Others are no longer welcomed in those spaces, either because relatives and friends refuse or housing policies prohibit tenants with certain criminal histories. Either way, ex-offenders are released from prison with few resources. Even when housing is available, there is no money for rent and deposits. While Iowa isn’t the worst of the states when it comes to restricting…
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