Council Meeting Date: August 18, 2014
Council Meeting Location: City Hall, 220 Clay St, Cedar Falls, IA 50613
In this post, I review a request to modify an old agreement, old rules and new moratoriums.
- Committee of the Whole (6:05pm, Mayor's Conference Room, ELECTRONIC AGENDA)-
G.1.a) This item sets a public hearing for the plans and specifications for a Recycling Center addition. The project includes a 2,000 square foot addition, a new baler and docks. The improvements will increase capacity, efficiency and marketability of our commodities (direct marketing versus going through a commodity broker). In total, the project will cost around $900,000.
G.2.c) This item establishes an immediate moratorium for the issuance of rental permits for single family dwellings in most areas of the city. In my last post, I suggested we exercise caution... the use of a moratorium is an all-powerful exercise of local power because it suspends rights and privileges without due process. A moratorium should only be used in cases of grave injustice (normally a result of the law), health, safety or welfare. It must have compelling public purpose, it must also be time-based (i.e. not indefinite). To many people, the moratorium is the ultimate solution, but at best, it is a stop-gap measure while we collect our thoughts - not quite the public emergency.
Aside from the occasional alien invasion or some force majeure event, I have a difficult time even thinking about the possibility. When Iowa Supreme Court cases are cited to defend the legality, it is a signal that we are on shaky ground. We live in a University community, all kinds want to live in the confluence of the University and Downtown - it's a dynamic market, plain and simple. Yet after months of study, we are no closer to understanding the problem or the solutions.
The issue is as emotional as it is complex, for me it is personal. I live in the neighborhood that people are constantly calling on as being blighted, deteriorated, on the brink of collapse. I feel compelled to invite anyone to my porch to see the vibrancy and niceties that surround this place... the mature trees, waving pedestrians, cruising bicycles, bursting elementary schools, diverse, inclusive neighbors and active neighborhood organizations. It is remarkably affordable compared to covenant-bound neighborhoods. It is conveniently located between a nationally recognized University and Downtown. Sure there are challenges, but the benefits and compatibility of lifestyle attracts not only me, but all strata of life.
Through this moratorium we will continue to study, debate and contemplate how to save our traditional neighborhoods through rules and regulation. We will point fingers and assess blame to landlords, real estate agents, tenants and home owners. But we continue to miss the big point - this is the market at work; it is working as anyone with rudimentary understanding of economics would expect. In the face of change, there are those that benefit and others that take exception. There are still more that work for the betterment of their neighborhoods (CHP, NCNA, OPNA...) with great success.
Supply and demand. Demand is steadily increasing, especially as UNI enrollment rebounds and approaches record levels. Demand for different property types is impacted by location, price and living compatibility. As supply is arbitrarily limited through regulation (or by planning-induced scarcity), rental prices increase. As rental prices increase, it sends signals to the market (i.e. investors) to create more supply. The market will create more supply in the most cost efficiently and timely manner possible. This causes more single-family conversions. If conversions aren't allowed, prices will increase for even the most marginal properties and nothing changes in the neighborhood. Existing landlords win, tenants lose, owner-occupied impacts are neutral at best.
In the end, the group that suffers the most are those that can afford it the least - tenants. Dare I say it, we've defined the problem as renters, as students. We are in the process of demonizing the very source of social vibrancy, economic stability and intellectual stimulus that we claim to prize so much. If we fail to understand the underlying economics, our solutions will miss the target, and we will be dealing with unfortunate, unintended consequences for years to come.
In an effort to understand 'target' impacts, I offered this impact matrix to help objectively guide our problem/solutions approach. Based on this approach, I would prioritize efforts based on highest impact.
Alas, consider this motion a notice to all property owners, small business people and tenants - the city is going to do its best to determine which interventions will successfully redefine residential living in Cedar Falls. Suffice to say, we got the first intervention right - enforce our existing codes. We picked the low-hanging fruit and now we are ready to prune the rest of the tree. But rather than prune, I fear we grabbed the chainsaw and are cutting into the trunk.
Why I live in a rental. On August 15th, I took the first step to convert my house to a rental. I paid the $110 for a permit and inspection. While I have no intention to move, I wanted to preserve my property rights as owner of my property. If some unfortunate, unforeseen circumstance were to happen, I want to manage my property according to my own volition. Under no circumstance would I want to subject myself to the demeaning city hardship board to grant a variance according to my condition. Every act, every regulation of government is a restriction of some freedom - some are justified, some are not. I view this particular moratorium as a flippant abuse of local government. Since there is no way of knowing where rules, laws and regulations of Cedar Falls will land, I chose to preserve my rights.
This isn't the first time... I have written on the topics of rentals in our city. Even if you do not agree, at least you know that I am always thinking about this issue and hundreds of other votes that City Council must contemplate.