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City will search for new housing director

By Bob Steenson,

The Charles City housing director is leaving for another job, and City Council members are faced with the decision whether they want to make other changes to the department.

The council considered the question at a workshop meeting on Monday, eventually agreeing that the city should begin the work of seeking a replacement for longtime housing director Heidi Nielsen, who will begin her new job today (Friday) with the North Iowa Area Council of Governments.

Nielsen said at the meeting Monday that one of the biggest questions is whether the city wants to retain control of the housing voucher program or let it be taken over by the North Iowa Regional Housing Authority.

She said the regional housing authority has expressed interest in taking over Charles City’s program.

“I know a lot of the council members over the years have questioned me on why we have so many vouchers, how many other cities our size have voucher programs like we do, and the answer is none,” she said.

The housing choice voucher program uses federal money to assist low income families, the elderly and disabled persons in finding housing in the private market. Participants find their own housing with a cooperating landlord, then the voucher pays part of the rent to the landlord while the tenant pays the rest.

Housing choice vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies such as the Charles City Housing Department, using funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Nielsen said the city housing board met last week and discussed the voucher program, coming to the conclusion that it would like to keep the program under the city’s control.

She said both Police Chief Hugh Anderson and Captain Brandon Franke expressed concern that having the vouchers administered by the regional board would reduce the ability of the city to monitor the program, looking for fraud or other concerns.

“I can see those concerns,” Nielsen said. “Being that we live in the community, we’re here. We can see what’s going on so it’s a little bit easier to step in.”

She also said there was concern about the city losing some funding, because a city inspector would no longer be involved in making sure housing in the voucher program met safety and health guidelines.

One of the main questions regarding whether the city keeps the voucher program is “how easy is it going to be to find someone with the correct skillset to take over, and how far out would we have to go to advertise,” Nielsen said.

A current housing department staff member, Housing Specialist Stacy Cleveland, will fill in for Nielsen on an interim basis, Nielsen said.

Nielsen said if the city did want to turn the voucher program over to the regional housing authority it would be a simple process, requiring approval from both housing groups and getting permission from HUD.

“There would need to be a cooperative agreement between the two agencies, spelling out the terms, and the agreement would have to say something about them continuing to serve the citizens of Charles City, so the voucher program would stay here and we would still have assisted housing here,” she said.

Although no official action can be taken at a council workshop session, the council did reach a consensus that it wanted to begin the process of replacing Nielsen and with keeping the voucher program under the city’s control.

City Administrator Steve Diers said he would work with Nielsen before she leaves on developing a job description and advertisement for the position.

Also at Monday’s meeting:

  • The council discussed a facade improvement grant request by David Davidson, for 233 N. Main St., the former Good Times Building, to replace windows and doors and change the entryway. The project is estimated to cost $25,900 and would be eligible for the maximum facade program grant of $10,000. The council will consider the application at its next regular meeting, Monday, Nov. 2.
  • Discussed a request to waive platting requirements on the transfer of a two-acre parcel of land west of Molstead Motors from G&G Holding Co. to Molstead Motors. Waiving the requirement, which is allowed in the city zoning ordinance for this type of transfer, would expedite the transfer, said City Engineer John Fallis.
  • Reviewed a preconstruction agreement with the Iowa Department of Transportation for a U.S. Highway 18 construction project through Charles City scheduled for next year. The city will be responsible for about $1.09 million of the construction costs, depending on what the actual bids are, Fallis said.

During construction, parking will need to be banned on 4th Avenue and 5th Avenue where the construction is taking place, Fallis said.