‘Everybody deserves housing’ in Eastern Iowa

When you bring together a small group who is united by a passion for a particular topic and for finding solutions, it’s incredible what they can come up with working together. On Wednesday morning, I hosted a conversation that included the voices of five community members who work in affordable housing, including area shelters and agencies, and those who are directly impacted by the need for affordable housing. Our goal was to not only talk about the problem, but more importantly, solutions. In a group exercise, we focused on having plentiful affordable housing throughout the community as our goal. What factors are needed to achieve this goal? The following are steps the community can take to ensure affordable housing is plentiful throughout the community, and how to make that happen: – More housing for the extremely low-income, those who are below the 30 percent poverty line: These families often have a significant waiting list to get housing. Ideally, they will need to spend less of their income on housing. – Create more permanent supportive housing options. This can be accomplished by potentially building more units or converting existing buildings into affordable housing units. Another option are tiny houses, which are literally very small houses meant for one to two people. Tiny houses have been successful in other communities. – Identifying best practices in other communities and states across the country. What has worked when it comes to creating more affordable houses elsewhere? For example, there is a tiny house movement in Minnesota. How have these houses helped alleviate the problem? Can Eastern Iowa adopt similar practices? In addition, we should examine whether…

‘We’re not going to meet the affordable housing need for Johnson County’

For every 100 extremely low-income renter households (ELI), there are 11 affordable and available rental units in Johnson County, according to the Urban Institute. In Linn County, there are 38 affordable and available rental units for every 100 extremely-low income renter households. These statistics are according to the institute. On both ends of the Corridor, the demand for affordable housing continues to grow. Affordable housing is defined as housing in which the occupant is paying no more than thirty percent of his or her income for gross housing costs, including utilities. In Iowa City, there are 400 applicants waiting for affordable housing that meet the city’s primary preference category, said Steven Rackis, housing administrator for the city of Iowa City. These are elderly households, defined as a household whose head is 62 years or older; a disabled household whose head, spouse or sole member is a person with disabilities and families with children under the age of 18. Including these primary preference families, there are a total of 7,000 applicants on the waiting list. The voucher program alone will not meet the need of the city’s residents. There are a limited number of vouchers and a limited amount of money, Rackis said. Housing units are usually 98 to 100 percent utilized, he said. “Even if I had $10 million and $6 million would cover our 100 percent utilization, we can’t issue any more vouchers because HUD (Housing and Urban Development) had capped the amount of vouchers that we have,” Rackis said. “We’re not going to meet the affordable housing need for Johnson County because the need is just too...

Affordable housing and other important terms defined

What is affordable housing? What is a housing assistance payment, and who qualifies as an extremely low-income family? As I’ve been covering the topic of affordable housing, I’ve come across some basic terms that could use some explanation. I asked Steven Rackis, housing administrator for Iowa City’s Housing Authority Division, for help with some definitions. Below are definitions compiled by Rackis that he shares with our readers. Are there any other terms you think should be added to the list? Let me know by sending a note to engage@wecreatehere.net. Affordable Housing: In general, housing for which the occupant(s) is/are paying no more than 30 percent of his or her income for gross housing costs, including utilities. Affordability is family specific and solely defined by the amount of household income. Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG): Created under the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, this program provides grant funds to local and state governments to develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing with a suitable living environment and expanding economic opportunities to assist low- and moderate-income residents. Disabled household: A household whose head, spouse, or sole member is a person with disabilities; or two or more persons with disabilities living together; or one or more persons with disabilities living with one or more live-in aides. Elderly household: A household whose head, spouse, or sole member is a person who is at least 62 years of age; or two or more persons who are at least 62 years of age living together; or one or more persons who are at least 62 years of age living with one...