City Council pushes back rental cap decision


Talon Delaney

Ames community members meeting in the city council chambers May 8.

Talon Delaney

Community and City Council members clashed over a proposed capping on rental properties Tuesday evening.

The ordinance would apply to certain neighborhoods surrounding the university and allow no more than 25 percent of properties therein to be rented out.

More than 60 Ames community members filled the city council chambers for the weekly city council meeting on May 8.

The stated goals of the ordinance are to stabilize local housing markets and preserve a high quality of life in the community. Those who oppose the rental cap believe these goals might not be accomplished, and instead the cap would bring about adverse effects upon minorities.

Mayor John Halia opened the floor for the public to express their support or opposition to the rental capping ordinance.

“Historically, mayors have not allowed any public comment on second or third readings,” Halia said. “I make an exception on this case and this case only. I do not plan on making this exception in the future.”

For the sake of time, concerned community members were allowed two minutes to air their grievances or sound their approval.

“I don’t feel this proposal will succeed at its goals,” said Jim Wellman, who lives on Campus Avenue. “I think it will do just the opposite of what it’s intended to do by creating a window of opportunity to convert homes into rental properties.”

People would do this, Wellman said, because the ordinance does state that in areas where the rental properties exceed 25 percent of all properties, existing rental establishments can maintain their status, but no more properties can be used for renting purposes.

Others felt that the rental cap would act as an impediment on their life plans.

“We purchased our house with the hope of renting it out one day,” said Morgan Johnston, a homeowner on Lynn Avenue. “We’ve built investments into this house. We think the rental cap takes away from the goals of the property owners. A lot of the support comes from the other part of the neighborhood where the percentage of rentals are below the cap.”

Some, like Joel Hochstein of the Ames Human Relations Commission, do not think that there is enough evidence that the rental cap would achieve its goals.

“I’m curious about the potential impacts this decision could have on low income groups, minorities and people of color,” Hochstein said. “I’ve been following this discussion for quite some time, and I haven’t hear about any research done about unintended consequences on minority populations.”

Supporters of the cap believe it would indeed accomplish the intended goals, and in doing so would allow more families to settle in the Ames area.

“We support the idea of the cap,” said Arvid Osterberg, professor of architecture at Iowa State. “There’s been a lot of research around the country that the caps do work and improve the living conditions.”

Community members like Marsha Miller feel that in recent years, the balance between homeowners and renters has shifted in the favor of renters, and the cap would help even things out.

“We like it and are planning to stay there there,” Miller said, referring to her home on Stanton Avenue. “We realize the neighborhood is desirable to students, but it’s desirable for us too. We’re really hoping this cap will help stabilize the neighborhood.”

After the final community members offered their perspectives, the council opened itself to internal debate before the chamber audience.

“Maybe we should try to bite this off in smaller chunks,” said Chris Nelson, Ward Four representative. “It’s hard for me to support this when we don’t understand the full scope of this decision.”

At-large representative Amber Corrieri agreed with Nelson.

“I still don’t understand why we would pass something like this without understanding the implications it would have and what we would do about them,” Corrieri said. “We’ve really only talked anecdotally about this, that it worked in some such town in Michigan or something. But we haven’t seen any data.”

Gloria Betcher, Ward One representative, told Corrieri that she’d been studying cases of rental capping for 15 years, and that the data is real and available.

“I’ve seen what’s happened elsewhere,” Betcher said, referring to rental caps in Lansing, Iowa as an example. “There’s been increased owner occupied housing in Lansing over a period of four years.”

Betcher also thinks that time is an important factor concerning the council’s decision on a rental cap.

“The rate that houses are being converted into rentals is alarming,” Betcher said.

Nelson and Corrieri disagreed, saying that there wasn’t sufficient data to prove Betcher’s last point.

“I’m not against the cap,” Nelson said. “There’s just some questions that need to be answered before we dive in on this. We’re voting yay or nay on an ordinance that has no math associated with it.”

In the end, the council motioned to return to the details of the rental cap in a future meeting, where they would further deliberate on the boundaries of the rental cap, the perceived hardships it could have on low income peoples and offer a third reading of the the resolution.

“The procedure needs to honor the community,” said Tim Gartin, Ward Two representative. “These people have been waiting for a year on this rental cap. Another 30 or so days to fine tune the ordinance would do right by them.”