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With the threat of floodwaters rescinded, members of the Cedar Rapids City Council are poised to throw off the shackles of community goodwill.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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Iowans owe debt to tribes fighting oil pipeline

Iowans owe debt to tribes fighting oil pipeline

Gazette Column
When this election is complete, I hope to travel and stand alongside the Standing Rock Sioux. It’s the least I can do for the 300 tribes who are inadvertently fighting for the protection of Iowa farmland while demanding their sovereignty be respected. The massive demonstrations near Lake Oahe in North Dakota began in the spring with a few members of the Standing Rock Sioux establishing a prayer encampment. It’s now blossomed into an international discussion that encompasses climate change, the future of renewable fuels and, of course, tribal rights. [caption id="attachment_87" align="alignright" width="640"] Dakota Access Pipeline protesters square off against police near the Standing Rock Reservation and the pipeline route outside the little town of Saint Anthony, North Dakota, U.S., October 5, 2016. (Terray Sylvester/Reuters)[/caption] It centers on the Dakota…
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Aim higher for Iowa’s gun safety training

Aim higher for Iowa’s gun safety training

Featured, Gazette Column
For the past five years, Iowa law has required citizens wanting a weapons permit to pay for a “safety” class that has no minimum standards. And, based on conversations with the crop of this year’s legislative candidates, no changes are on the horizon. In 2011, when Iowa became a “shall issue” state, removing nearly all discretion in weapons permitting from local law enforcement, the law required most applicants to attend safety classes. The Legislature, however, did not specify the content or curriculum of those classes or give such authority to the Iowa Department of Public Safety. [caption id="attachment_147" align="alignright" width="300"] A display of 7-round .45 caliber handguns are seen at Coliseum Gun Traders Ltd. in Uniondale, New York January 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)[/caption] The result is a patchwork — a…
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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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2016 election: Where the girls aren’t

2016 election: Where the girls aren’t

Gazette Column
You have heard that Iowa has a bumper crop of female candidates on the 2016 ballot? It’s true. But whether or not you have the opportunity to color in an oval next to the name of a woman running for the statehouse will most likely depend on where you live. Statewide advocacy group 50-50 in 2020 has worked since the fall of 2010 in partnership with several other women’s organizations toward a goal of political equity in Iowa by the year 2020, which will be the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. So it was little wonder that this non-partisan group was the first to shout the news that 2016 was a historic year for women in politics. [caption id="attachment_378" align="alignleft" width="300"] This is how many seats women would hold following…
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#RuralPride comes to Iowa

#RuralPride comes to Iowa

Gazette Column
DES MOINES — Chances are, if you are asked to describe an average LGBT American, certain attributes will come to mind. The stereotype is that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community are urban dwellers who are well-educated and affluent. There is a reason this stereotype exists. As the civil rights movement has become more prominent, most LGBT community spokespersons have been highly educated men from larger cities. These are the people the public has seen, and who they’ve listened to. But the experiences of this narrow field of activists are only one piece of the story. [caption id="attachment_429" align="alignleft" width="640"] One Iowa volunteers speak with an attendee of the LGBT Rural Summit at Drake University in Des Moines on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016. One Iowa partnered with…
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‘Fab Five’ shows Corridor’s 2016 battleground status

‘Fab Five’ shows Corridor’s 2016 battleground status

Gazette Column
Iowa Democrats have their eyes on the Corridor, and are betting on the rise of the “Fab Five.” With a majority of races up and down the ballot mostly set, Democrats gathered in Marion Thursday night to preview the 2016 coordinated campaign with an initiative led by Hillary Clinton’s state team, “Iowa Women Win.” The focus is, of course, on the fact that two women — Hillary Clinton and Patty Judge — earned the Democratic Party’s nomination in races at the top of statewide ballot for the first time in Iowa history. The “amazing women of Iowa’s past, present and future” is a theme the campaign hopes will energize those drawn by the historic nature of Clinton’s candidacy as well as those who have been turned off by Republican nominee…
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Rethink sales tax holidays

Rethink sales tax holidays

Gazette Column
Sales tax holidays like the one happening in Iowa this weekend may sound nice, but they aren’t good public policy. And, yes, I can already hear groaning from the parents and grandparents reading that first sentence. Bear with me. For those who are unfamiliar, for the past 16 years, Iowa residents have been given two days in August to purchase various back-to-school items that cost under $100 without paying sales taxes. In addition, since 2000, the legislature has mandated that all retailers participate. Supporters of these holidays assert the incentive stimulates the economy by encouraging shoppers to purchase more of the goods included on the state’s tax-free list, even if some are impulse buys. But, research has time and again shown this to be false. The New York State Department…
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Iowan, once nation’s youngest grocer, still fighting for rural

Iowan, once nation’s youngest grocer, still fighting for rural

Gazette Column
WICHITA, Kan. — If attendees at the Rural Grocery Summit pulled Bic lighters from their pockets, gave them a flick and held the flame in the air as the owner of three rural Iowa grocery stores gave his keynote address, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It was clear many attending viewed the man as part rock star and part legend. And, for those searching for rural saviors, Nick Graham comes pretty close — even if he is reluctant to embrace the fame. His popularity has little to do with his overall success rate, because he’d be the first to tell you that he has made mistakes. But no one can deny that Graham embodies an attribute that’s become a necessity in rural counties and small towns. Nick Graham, you see,…
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