Iowa City Neighborhood Services Division grant to bring equity in housing policy

In collaborative effort with similarly sized cities across the country, Iowa City will begin a process to bring housing density throughout the city. The grant is in addition to the already established Affordable Housing Fund.


Gabby Drees

Taylor Drive is seen in Iowa City on Thursday, March 24, 2022. Higher density housing is being brought to Taylor Drive, as well as Davis Street, after the Iowa City city council won a $100,000 grant intended to bring equity and affordable housing in the city.

Emily Delgado, News Reporter

Iowa City’s Neighborhood Services Division plans to recommend a new zoning code to increase housing density to the Iowa City City Council, after receiving a $33,000 grant.

Through the fiscal 2023 budget plan and in the Iowa City City Council’s Strategic Plan, the city has invested over $5.4 million to add affordable housing, with an annual deposit from the City Council’s budget of $1 million to the Affordable Housing Fund.

“I think that, when we look at the affordable housing fund that we have set aside, we need to think of it in terms of a larger solution,” Iowa City Mayor Pro Tem Megan Alter said. “How does this money go for creating a sustainable solution rather than ‘Oh, we’ve done one good thing for for housing.’ How can we build this into a larger vision and plan?”

Alter said the grant and the previously established affordable housing fund cements the city’s dedication to bringing affordable housing to Iowa City.

Tracy Hightshoe, director of Iowa City’s Neighborhood Development Services Division, said the department applied for the grant, awarded by the Reinvestment Fund — a fund-management company that works to fund local government projects around the country — in 2016, and won the award in March.

The grant will target low-income neighborhoods near Taylor and Davis Streets, she said, as well as part of the South District in Iowa City.

“What we’re trying to incorporate, there’s a lot of people who can’t afford a single-family home or don’t want a single-family home, but neither do they want to live in a large apartment complex,” Hightshoe said. “How do you go back to accommodating townhomes, duplexes, small scale, smaller multifamily? So, that’s what we’re trying to get into neighborhoods.”

Bringing more density in housing means diversifying the types of homes in a given area, such as increasing duplexes, townhomes, and small-scale multifamily.

“This is to work with the private sector to make the zoning code changes so that we facilitate the greater supply of housing and denser housing,” Hightshoe said.

Hightshoe said the department is collaborating with three U.S. cities, who received the same fund from the Reinvestment Fund and have similar goals — to build affordable housing.

Jennifer Fassbender, Reinvestment Fund’s director of program initiatives, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan, that the Reinvestment Fund decides which applicants are selected.

“The cities that chose to partner together, did so because they saw alignment in their work and are hoping to learn from each other’s experiences in implementing more equitable housing policies,” Fassbender said.

Iowa City will collaborate with Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and Henderson, Nevada, she wrote.

“We’re about the same size as cities and are closer in demographics,”  Hightshoe said. “Eau Claire, Wisconsin, but Henderson was also wanting to collaborate on the same type of issue that was housing — how do we have housing diversity?”

Hightshoe said the three cities are ideal for working together because of their similarity in size, meaning they lack funding as they are both rural and urban areas.

“The reason why they’re looking for midsize cities is because, if you’re large city, you get a lot of HUD [housing and development] systems. If you’re a very, very small city, you get a rural EG funds. But, for middle-sized cities like 50 to 250,000 range, there’s just a lack of resources available,” Hightshoe said.

The three cities will travel together to visit Fort Collins, Colorado, where the consulting firm Logan Simpson is based, to see the city’s zoning codes.

“I think what is exciting about this is that it’s working with other communities as well as a consultant who really knows how this can be an effective way to improve equity and affordable housing,” Iowa City Councilor Laura Bergus said.

Hightshoe said the project is still in its beginning phases but, once Iowa City’s Neighborhood and Development Services Division have a developed recommendation, it will be brought to council.

“We’re still looking at — how do you increase density just in other neighborhoods and see what other cities are doing?” Hightshoe said.