Iowa City City Hall is seen on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. (The Daily Iowan/Joseph Cress)

Laursen: Proposed additional student apartments must be affordable


As the City Council continues to debate whether to grant rezoning to a proposed student apartment complex, the councilors must keep affordability at the forefront.

By Lucee Laursen

Over the past few months, the Iowa City city councilors have debated whether to allow rezoning of a proposed project that would create upwards of 1,000 new apartments. On May 15, the city councilors began discussing a rezoning request from Jeff Clark of the Clark family, which owns Apartments Downtown. The request was made primarily because Clark wants to build a 15-story, four-building complex on the site between Burlington and Court Streets. Currently, the area has a height restriction that would not allow Clark to build a building of this height. The councilors have postponed a decision numerous times, and they will not vote on the rezoning until Aug. 7.

When I first read about this issue, I was quite annoyed that the councilors seemed to be dragging their feet. But upon further investigation, I found that the councilors’ caution was necessary in order for them to make informed votes.

RELATED: City Council delays rezoning vote for downtown high-rise again

At first glance, this seems like a relatively easy decision to make. If Iowa City wants to continue to expand, it must accommodate that expansion with more affordable-housing options for students and families. And though this is true, there are several questions left unanswered: Who will build the new complex? How will the large rise in density affect downtown? And perhaps most importantly, how much will it cost for students to live in the new Riverfront Crossing complex?

Because Clark’s plan does not contain details on his proposed project, it is difficult for the councilors to answer any of these imperative questions. It makes sense that Clark wouldn’t include a detailed version of his proposal. Why would Clark, or any company, spend time and money on creating a detailed plan for something before even knowing if the city would allow the company to go through with a project. Nonetheless, this creates an issue for the City Council — it is difficult to approve a rezoning request without actually having a detailed project proposal from the developer.

Because the lack of details make it difficult for city councilors to make informed decisions on whether to grant Clark’s request outright, they will most likely first decide whether to grant rezoning. Then they will have a separate discussion/vote on regulations that will be placed on Clark and his proposed complex once the councilors are given more details about the project.

RELATED: Downtown Iowa City high-rise apartment set for council vote

If the councilors pass the project, it is important to remember that 10 percent of the building will be affordable housing for a minimum of 10 years. This is vital for the Iowa City area. Johnson County’s median rent is $879 — this is an unattainable price tag for most University of Iowa students to pay.

Affordable housing is an extremely influential factor in determining whether future students can afford to attend the UI.

In my mind, yes, it is important that Iowa City continues to grow. But it is far more important that the city grows in the right way. In order to do that, the city absolutely must work to lower its unattainable cost of living. As a college student, I would love to live in a luxurious apartment with tons of amenities. Sadly, my reality is that after paying for tuition, books, and supplies for school, I have about $450 left a month for rent. So, if Iowa City decides to expand student-housing options, affordability must be a top priority.

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