Expanding Access to Affordable Public Housing through the Iowa City Housing Authority

City: Iowa City, Iowa

Reporting to: Director of Neighborhood and Development Services

The Challenge

Like many communities across the country, Iowa City is facing an affordable housing crisis. In 2019, Iowa City had 1,245 families living in poverty and 54% of renters and 16% of homeowners in the city’s urbanized area were considered cost burdened or severely cost burdened.1 The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic pressures have only deepened the crisis. City leadership believes that the complexity of the affordable housing crisis requires a multi-pronged approach that leverages partnerships with private, non-profit and government partners. Currently, the Iowa City Housing Authority (ICHA), a city division that delivers housing assistance programs, manages 86 public housing units and 21 affordable units. The vast majority of these are single-family units. In addition to unit management, the primary work of the ICHA is to administer federal housing vouchers as part of the city’s rental assistance programs. To reduce the affordable housing burden on low-income residents, city leaders seek to expand the scope of the ICHA to include an operational arm that is dedicated to city-owned, affordable housing development. Affordable housing is a priority goal for Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague and his City Council colleagues. In 2022, the Iowa City Council and Mayor adopted a new Affordable Housing Action Plan to outline current and projected housing assistance needs. The plan also introduced measures to combat housing market pressures creating financial hardship on a growing number of residents. Iowa City Council’s 2023-2028 Strategic Plan further emphasized policy commitments to affordable housing expansion, including action steps to update city zoning codes, expand middle housing allowances, and streamline approval processes.

City leadership aims to explore the potential of repositioning the housing authority from an entity that importantly manages federal voucher programs2 and a small and stable stock of mostly single-family public housing units to one that also is active in acquiring and constructing a more robust and diversified portfolio of city-owned housing units. This vision follows several decades of project and policy initiatives to expand affordable housing options for cost burdened households in its jurisdiction. In the last decade, the ICHA has leveraged existing public-private partnerships to add two multi-family developments to its public housing stock. By creating a robust framework to scale similar development, this program could serve as the foundation for a major shift in the city’s housing strategy. Over the last year, city officials have also visited public housing authorities across the country to learn from both historical and newly adopted efforts to proactively develop new affordable housing units.

Key next steps include conducting an analysis of the city’s housing market and public housing operations and creating a legal and financial framework for the expanded operations. The fellow, working together with the Director of Neighborhood and Development Services, will connect best practice, data analysis, and program strategy to answer the following key questions:

  • Public housing program expenses have exceeded revenues for the last four years. Should the city maintain the public housing program, or move towards a public housing repositioning such as RAD, Section 18, or Section 22?

  • What is the best organizational/legal structure to pursue affordable housing development outside of the public housing program?

  • What is the anticipated staffing needed per number of homes managed? For example, for each 50 homes owned and managed, how many property management staff and maintenance staff are needed? Are other staff needed (accounting, legal, etc.)?

  • What is the demand that needs to be met? What types of housing and clientele (income levels targeted and populations served) should be prioritized, based on limited public funds? This winter, the city will hire a consultant to complete a Housing Market Analysis for the metro area, which will help inform this assessment.

  • If time permits: What is the best mix of housing to maintain, for example, mix of multi-family, townhomes, and single-family homes? What types of housing can the city manage long term in a fiscally responsible way?

This project has the potential to serve as the foundation for a major shift in housing strategies for the Iowa City government. A successful project will help frame this issue for public discussion with elected officials. It will identify the viability of the concept, articulate a need and path forward, and identify critical next steps.

 

What You’ll Do

The fellow will engage key internal and external stakeholders to better substantiate program need, assess program viability, and help the ICHA demonstrate proof of concept for elected officials. Key stakeholders include ICHA staff, supporting city staff in the Department of Neighborhood & Development Services, City Manager’s Office, and City’s Attorney’s Office, other public housing authorities identified for case studies, federal government partners, and local non-profit housing providers. Through engagement and research, the fellow will provide the essential data needed to inform the ICHA’s expansion goals.

Key Deliverables Include:

  1. Work with Neighborhood Services staff in reviewing and discussing housing market data with the city’s consultant and meet with Housing Authority staff to review their current operational structure. Deliverable: A report identifying the most important market and operational data that will help the city make future decisions related to this project.
  2. Detailed case studies of 2-3 public housing agencies or non-profit affordable housing providers that are actively developing properties. For those identified in the central Midwest, visit these agencies with Neighborhood Services staff to discuss their operational and legal structure. Deliverable: Case studies that outline the legal and operational frameworks, including staffing models, and speak to the success and results that these agencies have had in expanding affordable housing.
  3. Collaborate with City Attorney’s office to discuss local development corporations, other legal structures, and ways to best leverage public and private partners, such as being able to leverage federal low-income housing tax credits to support affordable housing expansion.
  4. Presentation of recommendations on program design and implementation to key stakeholders, the Mayor, City Council, and the Director of Neighborhood and Development Services.

 
What You’ll Bring

The fellow will be expected to possess the following skills:

  • Data analysis
  • Financial modeling
  • Policy analysis
  • Design thinking
  • Writing and editing

 

Endnotes

1 Source: 2021 Update to the Affordable Housing Market Analysis. A household is considered cost-burdened when it spends more than 30% of its income on rent and utilities and severely cost-burdened when it spends more than 50% of its income on these expenses.

2 The city administers approximately 1,500 housing choice vouchers.

 

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