Cedar Rapids city leaders consider options to make housing more affordable

Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker introduces a panel of affordable housing experts.

Affordable housing isn't as polarizing or mainstream as what President Donald Trump will say next, but the gripping social issue is certainly a point of conversation among area leaders in eastern Iowa.

This topic -- as well as community policing, economic opportunity and others -- is being addressed by the Safe, Equitable and Thriving communities task force (SET).

Stacey Walker, one of the group's co-chairmen and a Linn County Supervisor, hosted a community conversation Saturday morning to consider various perspectives from an array of panelists and residents regarding housing costs and options.

To be considered affordable, housing must cost no more than 30 percent of the resident's income.

If a person earns $1,000 monthly, where they live must be $300 or less to be deemed affordable.

Given income versus affordability, Willis Dady Homeless Services Executive Director Phoebe Treep points to a sizable gap.

"We estimate there's between a 1,500 and 3,000 unit gap between the need and availability of units."

Adding affordable housing requires some creativity, exemplified by the Crestwood Ridge Apartment complex proposal, which designates five of 45 units for homeless transition housing.

These innovative development plans may serve as a blueprint for addressing affordability.

The task force also discussed race and homelessness, with Trepp focusing on statistics to highlight a potential problem.

Nearly 90 percent of Cedar Rapids is white, but half of those using shelter services at Willis Dady are black, a discrepancy Trepp finds concerning.

However, the dialogue surrounding affordable housing cannot be understated, as Trepp adds, "It's incredibly important that we have these public conversations long before you actually start shovels in the ground."

The conversation will continue, as SET has its next meeting in mid-August, the focus on economic opportunities.

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