Taking steps toward affordable and livable housing for Dubuque residents
Monday, February 26, 2024

Affordable housing is one of the most pressing problems facing U.S. communities. According to a Federal Reserve Economic Data survey in late 2021, nearly half of Americans (49%) noted housing as a major problem in their community, underscoring a nationwide lack of housing options that are affordable and safe. To help identify meaningful strategies in their own community, the City of Dubuque asked IISC and its students to focus on an affordable housing action plan as part of our yearlong partnership. 

Developing a comprehensive resource

While the city has produced multiple reports regarding housing, it does not have an action plan focused solely on affordable housing. The federal government defines affordable housing as spending less than one-third of household income on expenses directly related to shelter, including rent, mortgage, and utilities. A team of four graduate students—Hannah Lyons, Ethan Wherry, Gabin Kundwa, and Kaylynn Sieverding—are collaborating with city officials and community stakeholders this year to create a comprehensive document they hope will provide Dubuque with direct actions to implement over the next five years. 

The group spent the fall semester familiarizing themselves with existing information and data related to the city’s housing. “The City has a lot of documentation related to housing,” says Lyons, “but it was scattered across city departments and some reports were created to respond to specific state or federal requirements, such as equity or workforce development.” 

They also completed stakeholder interviews with city officials, such as the housing director and mayor, city council members, and representatives from businesses and nonprofits. In those interviews, they asked about successes and challenges related to housing. The group has noted that some items were mentioned in both columns, such as NIMBYism (“not in my backyard), which some interviewees feel is no longer a major issue while others believe is still an area in need of work. 

Carrie Schuettpelz and Travis Kraus, both faculty members in the School of Planning and Public Affairs, advise the capstone team. "Affordable housing is an incredibly complex topic," says Kraus, who also serves as IISC director. "The students are on track to both merge various efforts across the community into a single comprehensive resources, but also add new strategies based on their intensive data analysis, public engagement, and case study research. Ultimately, we hope this helps the City of Dubuque better address the increasing challenges facing low to moderate income families."

Interdisciplinary knowledge a must in area of housing

Housing is an issue that sits at the intersection of economic development, schools, transportation, and sustainability. Accordingly, team members are bringing their own academic training and career aspirations to the project:

  • Kaylynn Sieverding, who recently completed her undergraduate degree in Political Science and is among the earliest cadre of students in the School of Planning and Public Affairs “Undergraduate to Graduate (U2G)” program, is interested how a city’s decisions and strategies around housing directly impact its residents. 
  • Ethan Wherry, who has a background in finance, is calculating the supply and demand of affordable housing units in Dubuque and studying how the city’s forecasted economic growth will effect housing and vice versa.
  • With transportation as his area of concentration, Gabin Kundwa is exploring ways to integrate affordable housing units into transit-oriented development initiatives, while also designing GIS maps that reflect demographics, housing conditions, redlining, and other relevant information. 
  • Hannah Lyons is focused on how to thread sustainability into affordable housing development to help achieve Dubuque's climate action goals without increasing housing cost burdens for homeowners and renters.

    Lyons is getting her MS in Sustainable Development, while the other three are all in their final semester of their MS in Urban and Regional Planning. 

Talking to community members is next step

This semester, the group intends to connect more with community members and their direct experience of current policy. For example, Dubuque provides Housing Choice Vouchers for people qualifying for Section 8; however, only a third of rental units accept these vouchers. The group wants to hear from people who have tried to use the vouchers.

They will also be doing case studies of other communities. “The city has a list of innovate things they think could work in Dubuque,” says Lyons, noting accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and sustainable development bonuses as examples. “But they don’t have the time and people power to figure out what’s most feasible and could truly be successfully.” 

The group will present their final action plan to city officials and interested members of the community on May 2 during the IISC-Dubuque Partnership Closing Event in Dubuque. Their final action plan will be published to the IISC website in mid-summer.