Several myths about the project still remain. The first myth is that John Lewis had no other choice but to erect new buildings on a virgin piece of land. In the earliest stages of applying for funding, John Lewis had several options: to build new, acquire existing structures, fund rehabilitation of existing structures, or a combination of any of these options. They also had options to develop at scattered sites, and anywhere in their Iowa service area of Scott, Clinton, and Muscatine counties.
Instead, JLCS chose the least appropriate route of all, in the least desirable location - new construction of rental housing on a recreational site wedged between Jefferson Edison Elementary School and the Friendly House.
The second myth is that JLCS can make no further changes to their plans, including changing the site. JLCS was convinced it had the only answer with their original 20-unit townhome plan until Taylor Heights insisted they could make changes. Now Taylor Heights insists another, more suitable location can be found.
John Lewis' board of directors and their housing-development team in Des Moines can surely come up with a more appropriate affordable-housing plan and location. It is not too late; JLCS needs only to find the will and call upon their many community resources to assist them. The Iowa Finance Authority is willing to listen to alternatives. Now it's time for City Hall and the council to hear our concerns.
Cobblestone Terrace a Flawed Project
I was not surprised when mediation between Taylor Heights Neighborhood Coalition (THNC) and John Lewis Community Services (JLCS) was broken off and JLCS announced its intention to move ahead with an unpopular project. Once again, JLCS's actions have added to the lack of trust and questionable accountability surrounding this project. In spite of the fact that the neighbors' two biggest concerns would not be addressed - one, clients would not be permitted to buy the houses outright (but only 15 years and $80,000-plus later), and two, JLCS would not "fix and use what we have" - THNC willingly went to the table to discuss a third proposal that together John Lewis and Taylor Heights could take to the Iowa Finance Authority.
However, JLCS filed the third proposal before talks began, and during the talks couldn't or wouldn't answer questions regarding financial feasibility. JLCS clearly has no interest in our concerns. For too long JLCS has made a very good living off the misery of others. The more projects and employees brought on-board, the more money they need to gather to ensure their continued paycheck. JLCS has become quite good at writing grants and raising money. What they are not good at is housing development and listening to the community whose lives will be impacted.
The neighbors have no issue with the clients involved. (I was pleased to hear that on the THNC survey of Cobblestone concerns, not one neighbor - not one! - mentions race or income.) Our concerns are with JLCS and the fact that the project itself is flawed. It is a misuse of federal money, a disservice to the clients, and so poorly conceived that the financial viability of the project is very much in question.
I hope that JLCS can take a step back and realize that the trust and support of the community is far more valuable than a soccer field full of houses.
Foreign Influences Dictate U.S. Policy
Several years ago, when membership in the World Trade Organization was being considered, opponents said it would wrongfully deliver to a foreign body the power to set U.S. trade policies. They insisted that this would be unconstitutional because power "to regulate commerce with foreign nations" was granted to Congress alone. They even stressed that this power does not reside in the White House but in Congress, and that such clearly expressed authority cannot properly be delegated to a president, or legitimately assumed by a president.
When fully understood, membership in this type of economic union is much more about national independence than about trade. NAFTA and the WTO that our leaders have joined, and the planned Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), are always described as "free trade" agreements. But there is nothing free about them. How can trade be "free" when there are hundreds of pages of regulations in each pact?
On December 4, President Bush knuckled under to threats of sanctions from WTO nations and removed our nation's 21-month-old tariff on steel imports. Obviously, the opponents of WTO membership were correct: Foreign influences dictate U.S. policy. And the lesson given with this example of foreign influence should keep America's leaders from entangling our nation in President Bush's plan to have the U.S. become part of the FTAA this year. The FTAA will surely do for our nation's relationships with Western Hemisphere nations and for U.S. independence precisely what the WTO has already done. Congress can and should say "no" to the FTAA.
Robert W. Kelley
Last week's cover story on Cobblestone Terrace overstated Cathryn Lass' experience with low-income tax-credit housing projects. Lass reports that she has years of experience with housing development but not tax-credit programs.
Also, the Reader neglected to identify the subjects in its cover photo. Cathryn Lass is on the left, and Jennifer Olsen is on the right.