Does Cedar Rapids need to address panhandling?

Does Cedar Rapids need to address panhandling?

Gazette Column
With an eye toward the city of Cedar Rapids’ latest ordinance intended to curtail roadside panhandling, I took to social media and the streets Thursday with my writing hand extended. “Does the city need to do something about panhandling?” I asked friends and strangers alike. “And, if so, what?” My very non-scientific survey revealed that most — roughly 90 percent of the more than 100 people who engaged with me — don’t believe panhandling is a problem in Cedar Rapids. Several of these individuals spoke of panhandling situations in larger cities, where they’d been aggressively pursued by panhandlers on sidewalks or had received some unwanted service from a roadside panhandler, such as windshield cleaning. Those are not experiences they’ve had in Cedar Rapids and, more simply, they don’t see the…
Read More
‘Sanctuary’ label or not, Iowa City right to listen to its own

‘Sanctuary’ label or not, Iowa City right to listen to its own

Featured, Gazette Column
Members of the Iowa City Council deserve praise for weathering a barrage of politically-motivated ugly comments and threats from people in surrounding areas as they explore policy questions raised by local residents. Shortly after Mayor Jim Throgmorton was prompted to include discussion about Iowa City becoming a “sanctuary city” on Tuesday night’s work session agenda, a statewide conservative advocacy and action group led by Jimmy Centers initiated a robocall. Centers, previously a part of Gov. Branstad’s administration, urged supporters to let their voice be heard by attending the work session or contacting Iowa City officials. More than 100 recipients of the call took advantage of its automatic forwarding to connect with city hall. About half that number emailed the city. “I do not want Iowa City to become a sanctuary…
Read More
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…
Read More
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…
Read More
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…
Read More
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…
Read More
Transit blog, day four

Transit blog, day four

Featured, Gazette Blog
Does the metro really value all residents? Only a few seats were filled on the Route 5S bus Wednesday night when I boarded for the last trip out of the transit hub in Cedar Rapids. Since buses on Route 5 are heavily used, the lack of passengers was initially puzzling. A few more boarded the bus as it worked its way along First Avenue, headed to Marion, but not very many. After thinking about it last night, and again this morning (while riding a full Route 5 bus into downtown), I’ve come to the conclusion that bus passengers were sparse because it was the last route of the day. There were no more opportunities remaining for someone to travel to the store for a gallon of milk or to go…
Read More
Time to rethink Cedar Rapids public golf

Time to rethink Cedar Rapids public golf

Gazette Column
It should come down the basic economic principle of supply and demand. People are simply no longer playing golf at the rate they once were. That’s true in Cedar Rapids as it is throughout the country. Municipal courses — many the result of residential developer deals during the 1990s that gifted courses to municipalities — have relied more and more heavily on taxpayer subsidies. Supply has outpaced demand, resulting in deficits. That’s a problem when a community has a single public golf course. It’s a disaster when a community operates four — more than any other community in Iowa — that compete against a dozen privately run courses and country clubs. Des Moines has three municipal courses, as does Waterloo and Davenport. In some cities, like Des Moines, local officials…
Read More
An opening, but not yet a mandate

An opening, but not yet a mandate

Gazette Column
Progressives in Iowa City are excited, and rightfully so, but shouldn’t be lulled into believing that electing a city council majority is the end game. Tuesday was historic for Iowa City municipal politics. In its most boiled down sense, the contest before voters was progressives vs. corporate interests — and, for the first time in long time in city races, the progressives overwhelmingly won. A slate, known as the “core four,” displaced two incumbents to claim a strong majority on the city council. The group has promised to reshape city policies, especially in terms of development and investment priorities. Think of it this way, if the new council had been making the decision on the Chauncey project, it wouldn’t have been approved. No doubt the dust-up surrounding three worker cottages…
Read More
Minorities, especially, should cast a local ballot

Minorities, especially, should cast a local ballot

Gazette Column
There’s no doubt that a mere handful of votes can change the outcome of a city election, but there is even more at stake for Iowa’s underrepresented minority communities. Study voter turnout for any length of time and you’ll find political scientists who argue that increased engagement doesn’t provide significantly different election outcomes. But a look at the data behind such assertions shows their correlations are linked to the outcomes of national elections. About 62 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the 2008 presidential election. In 2010, about 41 percent voted in congressional races and, in 2012, about 58 percent participated in the presidential election. The 2014 midterm elections in Iowa garnered a high turnout of 53.3 percent, a number praised by state officials. Yet, nationally, only about…
Read More