Lawmakers hope to buy votes with your tax dollars

Lawmakers hope to buy votes with your tax dollars

Gazette Column
How will it cost taxpayers if the Iowa Legislature approves, and Gov. Kim Reynolds signs, a bill targeting so-called sanctuary communities? Let’s count the ways. The bill, Senate File 481, earned 32 votes and a nod of approval in the Iowa Senate last year. This week, it received a 2-1 vote in a House Public Safety subcommittee — despite law enforcement officials from across the state lobbying and speaking against it. The proposal must still advance through the full committee before it can be brought to the House floor. If approved by the Iowa House without any changes to what the Senate approved last year, it would be sent to the Governor’s Office where it could be signed into law. On Thursday night, the Reynolds-Gregg campaign used the bill as a fundraising plea, falsely…
Read More
Time to stop the Chicago blame game

Time to stop the Chicago blame game

Featured, Gazette Column
There’s a persistent rumbling of how Chicago transplants are to blame for just about every negative trend in Eastern Iowa. Perhaps you’ve heard it? The lack of affordable housing in our communities, as well as the strain on local social services organizations, according to the rumbles, is because people from Chicago are moving here and jumping to the front of the line. Incidents of violence are skyrocketing, they say, because Chicago transplants are bringing gang activity, guns and illicit drugs with them. Even if violence and mayhem isn’t the intent, there’s a cultural divide between small city Iowa and big city Illinois that’s impossible to cross. And, perhaps worst of all, the rumbles single out people from Chicago’s south side as instigators of neighborhood corruption, which is too often a…
Read More
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…
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
Rural Iowans eager to engage art in their communities

Rural Iowans eager to engage art in their communities

Featured, Gazette Column
Cold temperatures and snow showers didn’t keep rural community leaders off the roads Thursday. Opportunities to learn firsthand about grant funds linking art projects and revitalization don’t happen every day. About 100 people, at least half from smaller communities, traveled to Iowa City for the last of four Iowa meetings hosted by ArtPlace America. a New York-based organization that issues grant money through the National Creative Placemaking Fund. [caption id="attachment_335" align="alignright" width="640"] Cat Nelson, facility manager at the Washington Community Center, and Kadie Dennison, development and marketing manager at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center, were among the roughly 100 people who traveled to Iowa City to learn more about grant money that helps infuse the arts in community development projects. ArtPlace America hosted the Iowa City meeting on Dec.…
Read More
Learn how to put art to work

Learn how to put art to work

Gazette Column
People want to live in communities that make them feel connected to one another, neighborhoods and towns that are diverse, vibrant and inviting. If Iowans can cultivate and nurture those types of spaces, cultural and economic stability will follow. It’s what community leaders instinctively understand, but sometimes have difficulty initiating. Development of inviting and welcoming spaces can’t be accomplished by one group working alone. It needs the voices and shared vision of local residents, government leaders, business owners and the nonprofit sector. Four gatherings will take place next week that can help build the understanding and collaboration necessary for these types of community changes and enhancements. Just as important, attendees will learn what it takes to compete for a pool of project funding through the National Creative Placemaking Fund. The…
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
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…
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
Innovate funding for better refugee, immigrant integration

Innovate funding for better refugee, immigrant integration

Gazette Column
One of the biggest hurdles facing immigrants and refugees is integration into existing communities. And while there are innovative ideas about how to ease the transition, existing funding streams are rarely flexible enough to put them into practice. Dr. Ann Valentine, executive dean of Kirkwood Community College’s Iowa City campus, says identifying needs isn’t difficult and, since several organizations and institutions are combating similar issues, collaborative programming can be a natural fit. The issue, she told residents gathered in Iowa City on Wednesday for a Johnson County discussion on assistance for refugees, is that funding for educational services exists in traditional, narrow silos. That is a growing problem, especially in Johnson County. For instance, in 2009, Kirkwood’s Iowa City campus had 37 English-as-a-Second-Language credit students. Now there are 270. Although…
Read More