Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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July 29, 2016

Sullivan’s Salvos     8/2/16

In this edition:

*Melissa Returns to Haiti
*Community Health Initiatives
*Swisher Fun Days
*Suggestions for Housing Policies
*Did You Know?

*Melissa Returns to Haiti
         My wife Melissa will be travelling with Community Health Initiatives (CHI) to Haiti in early August. I am so very grateful that we both had the opportunity to travel to Haiti in April of 2014. It was truly the experience of a lifetime. And I am SO proud of Melissa for going back!

         Since she is on her way back to Haiti, I thought I’d share a few facts and figures:

Haiti is about one fifth the size of Iowa, and is home to almost 9 million people. Almost 3 million of those people live in and around Port Au Prince, the capital city. (All those figures are estimates, as there is no census and very few records.) Haiti is only 50 miles from Cuba, and only 700 miles from Miami.

Haiti is home to the actual spot that Christopher Columbus first landed in 1492. It is the only nation in the world formed as a result of a slave revolt; Haiti was founded when the slaves defeated Napoleon’s army in 1804. Since that time, the people of Haiti have suffered under several dictatorial regimes.

Over 85% of Haitians live below the absolute poverty line; most get by on less than $2 per day. Two-thirds of the population lack formal employment. 60% of Haiti’s GDP consists of remittances from former Haitians living abroad. Only 10% of Haitians have electricity. Fewer than 30% of Haitians reach 6th grade. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the five poorest countries in the world.

         Creole is the primary language, and while many people consider themselves Christians, most people also participate in Voodoo. The average temperature in April is 95 degrees.

         I absolutely loved my trip to Haiti! I hope to go again some day!

*Community Health Initiatives
         Community Health Initiatives (CHI) is an amazing organization that does amazing work. And they need your help! A small donation goes a LONG way in Haiti!

         Please check them out at, or send your donation to CHI, PO Box 5908 Coralville, IA 52241.

*Swisher Fun Days
         Fun Days in Swisher runs Friday, August 5th and Saturday, August 6th. If you have never visited Johnson County’s northwest corner, give it a try!

I have been attending Fun Days since the late ’80s, and this looks like the most full schedule of events they have ever had!

See for yourself at:

*Suggestions for Housing Policies
It has been a monumental time for housing policies in Iowa City! I was in attendance for most of the June 21 Work Session, and watched the Formal Meeting from the comfort of my home. These meetings were landmarks for affordable housing!

First, I must congratulate the IC Council on passing an Inclusionary Housing ordinance for the Riverfront Crossings District! This is monumental, and I applaud them! I have truly been waiting for this for over 25 years! Now I hope other cities will step up and follow suit.

Secondly, I must congratulate the IC Council on passing the community service long term housing ordinance! This ordinance allows developments like the FUSE program, intended to house some of our chronically homeless neighbors. This, too is monumental!

While I am very excited about these two changes, I was disappointed in part of the discussion. Specifically:

I thought City Manager Geoff Fruin’s presentation on affordable housing was quite good, but it had one glaring omission: the role of regulation. Mr. Fruin minimized the fact that you can REQUIRE developers to do certain things. One of those things could be requiring affordable housing in every development where something is requested of the City.

This is not new. Cities require all kinds of things. Hallways must be certain widths. Windows have minimum sizes. Certain materials are not allowed. Cities require all sorts of safety standards be met. Cities require setbacks. Developers deal with city requirements EVERY time they build anything. Should they request anything (zoning change, annexation, etc.) cities can absolutely require affordable housing!

I agree that all people have a responsibility to do their part in providing affordable housing. I am fine with my tax dollars being used for affordable housing. But damn it, why is this SOLELY the role of the taxpayers? The developers are the ones making the money! Charge them! Cities - you are the government! You have a role here – you can regulate!

To his everlasting credit, Geoff Fruin wrote me to address my concerns. He pointed out, rightly so, that section “364.3(9) of the Iowa Code prohibits cities from introducing rent controls, which is a central piece of IH ordinances. The fact developers are voluntarily seeking rezoning gives the city the opportunity require affordable housing. If they chose to redevelop their property under the existing zoning, they don't have to provide the affordable housing. The voluntary action of the developer is key to getting around the state rent control prohibition.” This is a key point, and I appreciate Geoff reiterating it. It does not change my argument; but it does point out that my argument has a few limits.

Moving on – I hope our cities will consider a displacement ordinance. What Iowa City tried to do for the Rose Oaks tenants is admirable. But again, why is this solely the role of taxpayers? REQUIRE the developers to make whole those they displace! I know it is too late for Rose Oaks, but the next Rose Oaks is probably a month away. We have simply seen too many instances of people being displaced by redevelopment efforts. Redevelopment is good, but a cost of that redevelopment should be making whole the families who are displaced. And this isn’t just Iowa City; every city needs a policy!

Again, Geoff was kind enough to engage in dialogue. He pointed out that the City Attorney felt Iowa City was “limited” in its’ ability to pursue these types of requirements. Forgive me, but I simply don’t always trust the opinion of the City Attorney. I understand why Geoff would proceed cautiously given her advice, but in my experience, her opinions have virtually always protected the powerful interests. I’m willing to bet we can find examples of other cities whose attorneys have found such an ordinance permissible. That is typically the case – other cities do things while Iowa City sits back and claims they are illegal. I hope the Council will ask staff to look into this.

One final note: the best way to create more affordable housing? Build more affordable housing! “Workforce” housing is great, and we need more of it. But we don’t need it as badly as we need AFFORDABLE housing. So if we are going to be asked to subsidize one or the other? Let’s subsidize the affordable housing. Allow the market to work its’ “magic” on the rest.

         We have many, many good things going on. I like where the City Manager is headed. I like where the Council is headed. I don’t want to minimize what has been accomplished. But we still need to have the intestinal fortitude to require those who benefit to foot the bill.

*DID YOU KNOW?  From 1957-1971, President for Life (his official title) Dr. François Duvalier, M.D. aka "Papa Doc" ruled over Haiti with an iron fist. Following his death in 1971, his dimwitted son, Jean-Claude aka “Baby Doc” assumed the position until he was deposed in a 1986 uprising.

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