Opinion: Johnson Co. supervisor: We’re still committed to affordable housing

Jon Green, a Democrat representing Lone Tree on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors since 2021. (Courtesy Jon Green)

By Guest Post

April 15, 2024

This column, by Johnson County Supervisor Jon Green, is in response to a previous column by leaders from Escucha Mi Voz.

On March 3, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors decided to shift funding in support of affordable housing from our American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation to county general funds.

We did so to ensure we’re able to make this investment while remaining in compliance with federal law.

When President Biden signed ARPA into law in 2021, Johnson County knew four things:

  • We were getting $29.4 million.
  • All of those funds needed to be obligated by 2024.
  • All of those funds needed to be spent by 2026.
  • There were requirements for how to do so.

We only had the broadest sense of what those requirements would be, as they hadn’t been finalized by the time we started making decisions, but we were confident all 62 initiatives we approved in November 2021 were in keeping with the spirit of the law. We would meet the letter of the law as it was developed.

One of those initial projects was $1.5 million to redevelop a county-owned property in Iowa City into affordable housing.

As time progressed, it became clear we wouldn’t have enough time to execute that project, and so we began looking for other opportunities for this significant investment. But our commitment to the spirit of the initiative has never wavered.

Since then, the US Treasury has released a steady stream of guidance and regulation pertaining to ARPA. Johnson County administrative staff have worked diligently to ensure our compliance with every requirement so we would responsibly invest every dollar of our award into our community.

Not every requirement is determined by Treasury rule-making, however, and we recently learned if we were to spend any federal funds on affordable housing, we would need to commit to two decades of compliance we simply lack the ability to meet. It is my best understanding that—were we to do so—we would be immediately and irrevocably in violation of federal law.

We are using a portion of our ARPA funds to build that compliance capacity, and that includes administrative staff. Without them, I doubt we could have accomplished a fraction of what we’ve already done. We’re investing in ourselves, which will enable us to apply for future grants we must now ignore.

This is an incomplete history. Johnson County held numerous public input sessions throughout 2021, followed by over 100 hours of public meetings. Staff have invested tens of thousands of hours of their time into ARPA. It is a whole-of-government priority.

What I can say with confidence is Johnson County will be spending about $1.5 million on affordable housing in the near future. Whatever form that investment takes, it will be impactful on a scale measured in decades, long after our American Rescue Plan Act funds have been spent.

Jon Green, a Democrat from Lone Tree, has served on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors since 2021.

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