What Have We Learned So Far?

Burmeister reflects on community engagement

What Have We Learned So Far?

Staff is deep into the community engagement work of Housing Tomorrow.  We have planned activities that appeal to whatever level of engagement residents might want – from simple preference voting for color pictures of housing types by putting marbles in Mason Jars to facilitated focus group discussions and multi-part electronic surveys. 

What have we learned so far?  People vote for Cottage Homes (small houses on small lots) and Multi-use buildings.  The demand for more dense housing options identified in national studies has its aficionados in Central Iowa as well.  Even folks we’ve talked to who live in and like their single family detached housing indicated the region needs a broader choice of options.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about “affordable housing.”  The label does not have a positive connotation.  It creates discomfort on multiple levels.  First, it is pretty uniformly associated with large, multi-family projects.  Multi-family projects inject many folks into a neighborhood in a compressed timeframe.  Complaints of school overcrowding and lagging infrastructure construction are common.  These concerns are more associated with rapid growth than with affordable housing.  More careful city planning is going to be needed to mitigate these perceived negatives.

Second, tax burden seems to be a common concern.  There is a perception that increasing affordable housing in a community will cause its tax levy to increase.  This is a complicated issue and one staff is studying closely.  We are hopeful that we can create a metric to measure this concern.  Many variables go into determining community value.  Property tax receipts (or lack of) are just one.  Large retail complexes generate significant property and sales tax revenues for a community.  Workers who make those financial engines run need affordable places to live.  How do the two offset one another?

Finally, we have heard or observed some personal stories.  There are grandmothers raising grandchildren who talk about having to find housing suitable for children.  There has been one Habitat Family.  There are adults who stop by our booth at public events with apparent disabilities who need housing.  Focusing on regional solutions to meeting all of these needs is the purpose of Housing Tomorrow.