Affordable urbanism in Iowa City
ROBERT STEUTEVILLE    OCT. 1, 2000
Developer partners with the city on innovative program to weave affordable units throughout new neighborhood. The Iowa City Housing Authority and one or more not-for-profit developers are looking to build 38 affordable housing units throughout the Peninsula neighborhood, a traditional neighborhood development (TND). The project offers a way for the city to provide affordable housing that is architecturally indistinguishable from other homes. The developer, for his part, benefits from faster absorption. Whether the architectural codes can be met while keeping construction costs down is the only significant issue to be resolved, according to a housing authority spokesperson. The project has the potential to absorb all of the city’s new publicly funded affordable housing units — defined as affordable to people earning 80 percent of the median income — for the next four years. Peninsula Partners, the developer, will sell the lots slated for affordable housing at a 10 percent discount. The Peninsula Neighborhood is a demonstration project for TND in Iowa City, Iowa. The city acquired the land, hired new urbanists Dover Kohl & Partners to create a plan, and then sold the land to Peninsula Partners, a development team with experience in TND. Affordability is an important aspect, although not the primary focus, of the Peninsula Neighborhood. The city’s traditional neighborhoods, which provide a model for housing types in the Peninsula, include significant affordable housing, according to Iowa City Director of Planning Karen Franklin. Other developers in the city have been reluctant to allow affordable units for fear that they will cause market rate units to depreciate. The city wants to demonstrate that affordable housing can be woven throughout a development. “We wanted to integrate affordable housing along with the market rate units without diminishing the value of the market rate units,” notes Franklin. The affordable units will include flats, townhomes, and bungalows. They will comply with a typological urban/architectural code, which will make the affordable units indistinguishable from other homes. “As long as they comply with the code, I have no fear of affordable housing,” says Terry Stamper of Peninsula Partners. Of the first 70 units, as many as 15 will be affordable. The remaining affordable units will be built in later phases of the 386-unit TND. Peninsula Partners benefits because the affordable housing represents additional absorption, beyond what would be expected from sales of market-rate units. The 38 affordable units have guaranteed funding — some of which comes from state and federal sources — and will be built quickly, helping to define the public realm early in the project. The Peninsula’s typological code is based on building types, which are keyed to specific streets to create an urban character. The Peninsula project is 70 acres, 40 of which are buildable. The TND also includes sites for civic buildings and neighborhood commercial. The Peninsula Neighborhood is scheduled for groundbreaking in spring of 2001. Iowa City, a university town of 65,000 with a major medical center, also is becoming a popular retirement destination.