City of Ames will act as developer constructing affordable housing at State Avenue


Sam Greene/Iowa State Daily

Ward Two Representative Tim Gartin speaks to representatives from the Ames Airport after John Joiner Spoke about lengthening the runway which would allow larger jets to land. This proposed improvement follows a request from several Big 12 teams which operate their own jets, but must currently land in Des Moines and drive to Ames due to runway length requirements.

Chris Andreson

Tuesday night, Ames City Council took another step forward in a long ongoing plan to develop affordable housing at the site of the old Ames Middle School.

The site at 321 State St. was purchased two years ago by the city with the commitment to develop affordable housing in the area. Specifically, council has decided 51 percent of the households built in the area must be affordable to households that earn 80 percent or less of the Ames median income.

Council first considered development in January 2017 when they directed staff to create the original RFP for the project. The city only received one proposal, from J-CORP, which eventually fell through.

Council increased incentives to develop in the area to a maximum value of $900,000 as part of the FY2018-2019 CDBG Annual Action Plan.

In January, the council directed staff to move forward on extending Tripp Street through 321 State Ave., creating the infrastructure for future developments in the area.

Tuesday, the staff brought forward three options for the council to consider when moving forward with development.

The first option would be to send out another RFP, looking for developers to build single family and detached homes with the increased incentive.

The second option was for the city to act as the developer. In this scenario the city would create subdivision layouts and then be responsible for identifying homebuilders for the affordable home lots.

In the third option, the city would work with a developer but open up the RFP to ask for developers interested in single family and multi-family rental developments. 

This option also brought up the idea of building affordable apartments where Franklin Park is currently located and relocating the park to part of the 321 State St. site.

Various members of the community, many of them living in the area, came to speak about what types of housing they would like to see built.

Jason Paul, an Ames resident, spoke in support of a variety of housing options in the area. He especially felt the city should look at multi-family homes. He shared that the majority of apartment developments in the past have been aimed toward students and are not affordable to many working families.

“We have working families that can’t afford to live in Ames,” Paul said.

Joanne Pfeiffer, a resident of the area, came with data from a recent survey sent out to residents of the neighborhood. The data presented showed that roughly 67 percent of the individuals living in the area were against rental properties being built in favor of owner occupied single family homes.

After hearing public input, this issue sparked fierce debate among council. Council member Tim Gartin came out in strong support of option one or two.

Gartin felt the council had been telling people in this neighborhood they would build single family owner-occupied homes since the beginning.

“We have told these people this is what we are going to do,” Gartin said. “We need to follow our word, and I’m not about to back off on this.”

Gartin also brought up the concern that as soon as developers had the option to opt out of tax incentives (20 to 30 years), the owners of any multi-family developments would switch to renting to students in order to get larger profits. Gartin called it “naïve” to think any multi-family developments would stay low income forever.

“We don’t have the luxury of thinking in short term, we have to think long term in this community,” Gartin said.

Gartin also brought forward the point that he felt the Ames housing market has become saturated with apartments, and as a result rents are already coming down.

Council member Amber Corrieri responded in disagreement with Gartin. She felt that despite the softening of rents across the city, the majority are still unaffordable to working families.

She also refuted Gartin’s claim that they had told members of the community they would be building owner-occupied homes in the area. She shared that she had personally told people in that neighborhood she intended to push for multi-family developments.

Corrieri felt the city had done nothing to address the needs of low-income Ames residents in terms of rental.

After debate from other members of the council, Gartin moved option one, which would seek to find a developer to build single-family homes.

Only three members of council voted in favor of this motion: Gartin, Beatty-Hansen, and Martin. The motion failed after Mayor Haila voted no as a tie-breaker.

As a result, Gartin called this a “sad day for city government.” He felt the neighborhood spoke on what they wanted, and they denied that.

“I’m baffled about the idea that in the future we will be able to say we care about neighborhoods,” Gartin said.

Corrieri responded by calling Gartin’s point an unfair point to make. She saw a need for affordable rental properties in the area and felt that a multi-family development would be the best way for people who are not students to live affordably in the community they work in.

At this point, council member Betcher said she based her decision entirely on the fact she feels low-income housing tax credits may be unavailable at the federal level in the future.

She stated her opposition to option three as well and would only support the city acting as the developer.

Corrieri moved option three, but the motion failed when only her and Nelson voted in support.

The council finally considered the only available option left, option two. This option would see the city acting as a developer to construct affordable single-family detached homes.

Betcher decided to move option two, but to open it up to attached or detached homes.

“My goal is not to restrict what is possible,” Betcher said.

The motion passed with Nelson as the only one voting nay.