Iowa City Council considers resettlement funding for residents of Forest View Mobile Homes

By | January 31, 2021
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After a 2019 deal with a developer to build new housing for residents failed, the city is drafting details of financial support for residents who want to find new housing.

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

City Manager Jeff Froen told the council at Tuesday’s working session that a 2019 rezoning agreement passed by the council, which will provide manufactured housing for park residents.

Blackbird intends to redevelop the land on which Forest View is located in 2016, adding new residential and commercial projects.

As part of negotiations with the city to redistrict the area, a conditional zoning agreement was established that would provide new affordable housing in the development to the park’s current residents.

According to a note from Fruin, current park owners have not invested in upkeep of the units, hoping to redevelop them in the near future, and the housing condition has continued to deteriorate in recent years.

The Iowa City Council began discussions on a recommendation to relocate residents of Forest View Park mobile homes on Tuesday.

Some council members visited the residents in the caravan park on Sunday. Chancellor Pauline Taylor said residents should not spend another winter in potentially unsafe housing.

“I admire each and every one of these residents and their families for the strength and courage they have demonstrated during such a long process,” Taylor said. “I can’t believe it took this long, and we’re back to square one, basically.”

Taylor also expressed support for providing financial assistance to residents who wanted to leave the park.

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

Froen proposed the new transportation project in a 25-minute presentation to the Council. Froen said talks with the park’s owners stalled in 2019 and this was one of the reasons the 2019 project failed.

“We have been fortunate to have met the tenants several times to better understand some of the challenges they face and to better understand from their point of view what the issues are in their area,” Froen said. “We still probably don’t agree 100 per cent on what this transfer recommendation looks like.”

Froen said city employees are suggesting that the city use American Rescue Plan funds to provide financial benefits to individuals who have chosen to relocate.

Related: City Council makes a three-year decision on the Forest View mobile home park

Froen said city employees have arrived at a recommended departure date of December 9. Council members did not speak for or against this proposed date in their working session.

Mayor Bruce Teague and Chancellor Sean Harmson were among several council members against the original plan for city employees to define income-based financial aid qualification criteria.

The original proposal for city employees was to provide $15,750 in assistance to individuals who earned less than $40,626 or qualified for “certain federal assistance programs,” according to Frewin’s presentation to the council.

“It makes sense to take the income off the table,” Harmson said. “Let’s face it, if you are raising a family and your household income is $41,000, you don’t roll [money]. “

Chancellor John Thomas, who was part of the council when the communal zoning agreement was signed in May 2019, said the project’s ambitions must not be lost.

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

Thomas said the city should consider giving the land to a private developer after relocation. Thomas said the development of the Peninsula neighborhood by private developers with city approval has taken a similar approach, which he believes has been successful.

“We want to make sure that affordable housing is a priority,” Thomas said. “This is necessary for everything to move forward with this site.”

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

Chancellor Laura Bergos said she was reluctant to use the money from the US bailout bill to fund resettlement based on a timeline before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Froen said it wasn’t immediately clear whether the board would be able to use USSA funds for certain purposes such as relocating residents before March 2021, when the plan was originally drafted.

Harmson said he was proud of the council for moving quickly to fine-tune the details of the transfer recommendation, rather than debating whether or not it should be done.

“I’ve lived in a lot of places and covered a lot of city councils, and I’d be willing to say we’d be engaging in a very different debate in a lot of the places I’ve lived before,” Harmson said.

Teague said the Forest Green Tenants Association gave the council an award for collaborative efforts throughout the process, which began with a communal zoning agreement nearly three years ago.

We care about each other, and we want to have a discussion,” Teague said. “We may not always agree on things and agree on things 100 per cent, but I think we can, as a council and as a government, find a way forward with unity.”

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