Iowa City City Council considering relocation funds for residents of Forest View mobile home park

After a 2019 agreement with a developer to build new housing for the residents failed, the city is hammering out details of financial support for residents who want to find new housing.


Gabby Drees

Mayor Bruce Teague speaks at an Iowa City City Council work session at the Senior Center in Iowa City on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

Ryan Hansen, News Reporter

After a 2019 project to build new housing for residents of Forest View mobile home park in Iowa City failed, Iowa City City Council is considering providing payments for residents to move from their homes.

City Manager Geoff Fruin told the council at its Tuesday work session that a 2019 rezoning agreement passed by the council, which would provide manufactured housing for residents of the park.

Blackbird intended to redevelop the land where Forest View is located in 2016, adding new housing and commercial developments.

As part of negotiations with the city to rezone the area, a Conditional Zoning Agreement was created that would provide new affordable housing in the development for current residents of the park.

According to a memo from Fruin, the park’s current owners have not invested in the upkeep of the units, hoping it would be redeveloped in the near future, and the condition of the housing has continued to deteriorate in recent years.

The Iowa City City Council began discussions about a relocation recommendation for residents of the Forest View mobile home park on Tuesday.

Some members of the council visited with residents at the mobile home park on Sunday. Councilor Pauline Taylor said residents should not have to go through another winter in potentially unsafe housing.

“I admire each and every one of these residents, and their families, for the strength and courage that they have shown through a very long process,” Taylor said. “I can’t believe that it has taken this long, and we’re back to square one, basically.”

Taylor also voiced support to provide financial assistance for residents who wanted to leave the park.

“We, as a city, need to show some integrity and do what we can to help fulfill what was promised to these individuals,” she said.

Fruin proposed the new relocation project in a 25-minute presentation to the council. Fruin said conversations with owners of the park property stalled in 2019 and this was one of the reasons for the failure of the 2019 project.

“We’ve had the good fortune to meet with the tenants a couple of times to better understand some of the challenges that they have and to better understand from their perspective what the issues are in their neighborhood,” Fruin said. “We’re still not probably 100 percent in agreement on what this relocation recommendation looks like.”

Fruin said the city staff are suggesting that the city use American Rescue Plan Act funds to provide financial benefits to individuals who chose to move.

RELATED: City Council comes to three-year decision on Forest View mobile home park

Fruin said the city staff came to a recommended move-out date of Dec. 9. Councilors did not speak for or against this suggested date in their work session.

Mayor Bruce Teague and Councilor Shawn Harmsen were among the multiple councilors against the city staff’s original plan to define financial assistance qualification parameters based on income.

The city staff’s original suggestion was to provide $15,750 in assistance to individuals who have made less than $40,626 or are eligible for “certain federal assistance programs,” according to Fruin’s presentation to the council.

“Taking the income off the table makes sense,” Harmsen said. “Let’s face it, if you’re raising a family and your household income is $41,000, you’re not rolling in [money].”

Councilor John Thomas, who was a part of the council when the Collective Zoning Agreement was signed in May 2019, said the ambitions of the project must not be lost.

“It was a visionary project,” Thomas said. “I think we all felt that this was something that the city would be proud of, that it would be a project that would be of interest beyond Iowa City… I feel we need to salvage that vision.”

Thomas said the city should consider awarding the land to a private developer after the relocation. Thomas said the development of the Peninsula neighborhood by private developers with city approval took a similar approach, which he believed was successful.

“We want to make sure affordable housing is a priority,” Thomas said. “That is essential to everything moving forward on this site.”

The original proposal drafted by city staff also suggested allowing individuals leaving Forest Green Park first refusal rights to purchase affordable housing. Multiple councilors said residents should be provided with either financial assistance or priority rights to refuse.

Councilor Laura Bergus said she was reluctant to use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to fund the relocation based on a timeline prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fruin said it was immediately unclear whether the council would be able to use American Rescue Plan Act funds for certain purposes such as resident relocation prior to March 2021, when the plan was originally drafted.

Harmsen said he was proud of the council for moving quickly to fine-tune the details of the relocation recommendation, rather than debating about whether or not to do so.

“I’ve lived in a lot of places and covered a lot of city councils, and I would be willing to say that we would be in a very different discussion in lots of places I’ve lived before,” Harmsen said.

Teague said the tenant association at Forest Green awarded the council with an award for collaborative efforts throughout the process, which began with the collective zoning agreement nearly three years ago.

“We do care for each other, and we do want to have a discussion,” Teague said. “We may not always see eye-to-eye and agree to things 100 percent, but I believe we can, as a council and as a government, find a way to move forward in unity.”