Mayor Stresses Affordable Housing Efforts

The Herald Times
July 28, 2019

Guest Column from Mayor John Hamilton:

National lists of “best places to live” regularly include Bloomington. For retirees, those raising a family, or starting a business, our community is widely touted. It’s one reason every year we grow by about 1,000 people from all walks and stages of life.

But far too many folks struggle to afford to live here. In Indiana’s most expensive housing market, we need more options for our residents.

Since January 2016, our administration has worked diligently and creatively to expand those housing options. In the face of long-term declining state and federal support for housing, we’ve tried a wide range of approaches.

One new approach is the Housing Development Fund, established with the city council in 2016. The Fund accepts non-tax contributions to support all kinds of new or rehabbed housing. It was activated with legacy funds from the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County, and a significant contribution from a private developer who sought to double the density originally allowed for a new student apartment building.

What has the $1.5 million in the fund accomplished thus far? The bottom line: New or preserved units of more affordable housing are in place or under construction for 130 Bloomington families. Projects include affordable downtown residences with Bloomington Cooperative Living, new affordable apartments at Switchyard Park, and new northside family units.

The fund continues to accept contributions from various sources, including from investor/developers who partner with the city to expand affordable housing options for our workers families and retirees. Expenditures from the fund are appropriated by the city council through the regular, public budget process.

Some have criticized this tool for expanding housing options as “pay to play” — suggesting something untoward in incentivizing developers and builders of market rate housing to help meet our community’s important goal of more housing, more affordable for all.

In fact, Bloomington and communities around the country have done this for generations — though not always focused on affordable housing. For years, developers and builders in Bloomington have been incentivized (or required) to produce community benefit as they invest in new buildings. That’s how we’ve increased sidewalks, green spaces and urban trees. It’s why we enjoy building setbacks, and design standards, and quality materials. It’s supported first floor retail, adequate parking spaces, and sustainable buildings. These community benefits and more exist because the city either required them through zoning or incentivized them through benefits like density, height, or use variances.

Our administration has intentionally and explicitly added affordable housing to those community benefits that are done in concert with private investments in our city. Our comprehensive plan encourages this. And I believe it’s essential that we do so. Barred by the state from adding housing options through inclusionary zoning, direct taxation, or rent control, we have to be creative and intentional in partnering to help more people afford to live in Bloomington.

The proposed new zoning code will allow some developments to go taller or denser than they otherwise would, if they include more affordable options for more of our residents. That’s a fair exchange, and developers can choose either to build such units directly, or to contribute money to the Fund to allow others to access the money for more affordable units.

If you have ideas for how to create more affordable units in town, contact our office — maybe the Fund can help!

The 2019 Bloomington municipal primaries took place Tuesday. Here's who won.

The 2019 Bloomington primary elections took place Tuesday as less than 10% of the city’s registered voters chose between candidates for municipal offices such as mayor and city council seats.

While the election is technically still a primary before November’s general municipal vote, a lack of Republican candidates in Bloomington means most of Tuesday’s winners are expected to secure their offices in the fall.

John Hamilton wins mayoral primary

Incumbent mayor John Hamilton won the Democratic primary election for mayor against challenger and former county commissioner Amanda Barge.

Hamilton’s win comes a little more than a month after Barge suspended her campaign after the Indiana Daily Student published an article outlining sexual harassment allegations against her. Barge allegedly harassed former county contractor Brandon Drake, who worked for the county while Barge was commissioner.

Hamilton accepted the Democratic party mayoral nomination and will serve his second term as mayor if elected. He will run against independent candidate Nile Arena in November, provided Arena secures the required 522 signatures in a petitionto appear on November's ballot by July 1.

Incumbent City Clerk Nicole Bolden ran unopposed in Democratic primary

Incumbent Nicole Bolden won the Democratic nomination ran unopposed in the Democratic primary for reelection in her position of city clerk. Bolden was first elected to the office in 2015 after six years as a hearing officerand later a deputy clerk.

Kate Rosenbarger wins nomination for city council District 1 seat

Kate Rosenbarger won the Democratic primary nomination for a city council seat in District 1.

Rosenbarger ran against incumbent councilmember Chris Sturbaum and challenger Denise Valkyrie for the nomination.

She currently serves as executive director of TEDxBloomington, and her most recent political experience was as deputy campaign manager and field director for the Liz Watson congressional campaign.

Sgambelluri and Guenther secure nominations for city council District 2 seat

Professional IU fundraiser Sue Sgambelluri and recent IU graduate Andrew Guenther won the Democratic and Republican party nominations for the District 2 city council seat, respectively. Sgambelluri and Guenther will run against each other in the general election this November.

The District 2 race is the only city council race with a Republican candidate.

Ron Smith nominated for city council District 3 seat

Ron Smith won the Democratic primary nomination for the District 3 city council seat. Smith has a history of working in various governmental roles advocating for children, the disabled and the elderly.

Smith ran against Jim Blickensdorf, who suspended his campaign after the Herald-Times published a story detailing his purchase of a Bedford strip club. According to court documents, Blickensdorf bought the Hideaway Lounge in 1998 and failed to make payments on the business and also hired underage dancers.

Dave Rollo nominated for city council District 4 seat

Incumbent city councilmember Dave Rollo received the Democratic nomination for the District 4 seat. He defeated challenger Miah Michaelsen in pursuit of his fifth term.

Rollo is a retired IU biology professor who has continually fought for sustainability when issues are presented to the community. He most recently voted on the Fourth Street parking garage rebuild and has been an avid supporter of affordable housing.

Written by Annie Aguiar and Evan Carnes for the Indiana Daily Student

Piedmont-Smith reclaims city council District 5 nomination

Incumbent city councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith won the primary nomination in District 5 facing challenger Ryan Maloney. If elected in the general, she will serve her third term on city council.

Piedmont-Smith has centered much of her previous voting and campaign on combating climate change, securing affordable housing and assisting residents suffering from addiction.

Steve Volan secures nomination for fifth city council term

Incumbent city councilmember Steve Volan secured the nomination for his fifth city council term after running unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Volan centered much of his campaign on stricter attention toward parking and housing projects in his district, which includes parts of IU’s campus.

Three candidates nominated for at-large city council seats

Susan SandbergJim Sims and Matt Flaherty securedDemocratic nominations for the Bloomington City Council’s three available at-large positions.

Sandberg and Sims both currently serve as at-large members of the city council. Matt Flaherty, a 33 year old graduate student at IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, defeated three other candidates, including incumbent councilmember Andy Ruff.

Mayoral candidates draw lines at progressive forum

Written by Kurt Christian from the Herald Times

The city’s two Democratic mayoral candidates sought draw a clear distinction between their progressive politics during a Monday evening forum.

Democracy for Monroe County hosted the event to hear the candidates’ thoughts on the city’s annexation lawsuit, taxpayer-funded projects, inclusivity and more. One of the most polarized responses from Monroe County Commissioner Amanda Barge and incumbent Mayor John Hamilton had to do with the city’s ongoing lawsuit against the state that asserts Indiana’s Legislature took unconstitutional action to block Bloomington’s annexation attempt.

“You’re darn right I think we ought to sue them,” Hamilton said. “It’s an outrageous state government stepping on the neck of city government.”

Hamilton said the city needs to assert its prerogative to institute local decisions, and that this annexation lawsuit is the way to do it. Barge disagreed.

“I think the lawsuit is a waste of time,” she said.

Barge said she would rather establish a memorandum of understanding between the city and the county to ensure a more transparent and procedural approach.

“We weren’t really having conversations. Everyone was playing catch-up,” Barge said. “The responsible thing to do is to annex the places that make sense, first.”

One member of the audience asked how either candidate could consider taxpayer-funded projects such as the Switchyard Park and the Monroe Convention Center’s redevelopment and think they are progressive. Hamilton said his administration’s work on the Trades District, the city’s parks and trails and the purchase of IU Health Bloomington Hospital’s current property move the entire city forward.

Hamilton said he was surprised to learn that Bloomington has one of the lowest tax rates of the state’s top 20 largest cities. He said Bloomington did those things while being fiscally responsible and improving its bond rating.

“We’re not an either-or city. We’re a both-and city,” Hamilton said.

Barge said the right choice in situations where a city is taking on a lot of projects might be to push pause.

“We don’t want to build a park and all of these things on the backs of taxpayers, on the backs of people who are being marginalized,” she said.

Barge promised to always ask who is missing from the table when the city is working toward making a big decision. She said, if she becomes mayor, she wants to make sure those missing voices aren’t exploited.

“We have to be careful not to do tokenism or exploiting people for their information,” Barge said. “If you want to make it a more meaningful interaction, offer to pay someone with experience to share it.”

Mayoral candidates discuss affordable housing

By Kurt Christian from the Herald Times

Democratic mayoral candidates John Hamilton and Amanda Barge engaged in a heated debate Tuesday evening over Bloomington’s and Monroe County’s affordable housing scorecards.

Indiana University’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity hosted an event Tuesday to discuss the Bloomington’s high residential costs. Hamilton stressed helping residents across the income spectrum and taking immediate action to address the city’s lacking supply.

Barge wants to see higher wages as a path to affordability and more representatives on governing bodies who are actually affected by high housing costs.

After saying his mayoral administration helped create more than 600 bedrooms of affordable housing, Hamilton asked Barge how many she has helped create in her role as a Monroe County commissioner. Barge did not give a number and said the city refused to work with the county to help create the infrastructure needed to create such housing.

State of the City addresses power dynamics

By Kurt Christian from the Herald Times

This year’s State of the City Address drew a line in the sand between state lawmakers’ interests and the city’s goals, including a new plan to power Bloomington.

Mayor John Hamilton delivered the final address of his first term Thursday evening. He recounted the city’s successes leading up to its third century before listing challenges Bloomington still has to face: homelessness, substance abuse, hunger, climate change and more. The mayor also detailed a slew of legislative roadblocks the city has faced in its efforts to raise the minimum wage and create affordable housing.

“This state legislature seems to be looking backward,” Hamilton said. “Even today, they refused to pass a real hate crime bill. They are close to passing a bill effectively banning abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy. They may arm our teachers. They shut their eyes to climate change. We, in this progressive community, will keep fighting for our city’s future.”

Hamilton promised Thursday to convene a task force in the next 60 days to study the city’s energy systems, mobility, food and infrastructure.

“I’m directing this new task force to evaluate whether, and how, we might convert our wastewater plant to an anaerobic digestion process,” Hamilton said.

Vic Kelson, City of Bloomington Utilities director, said the Dillman Road wastewater treatment plant currently uses an aerobic system. He said the current system for treating the city’s wastewater produces a sludge of mostly dead micro-organisms. City employees feed that sludge oxygen and deprive them of food so that the remaining micro-organisms essentially digest themselves.

In anaerobic digestion, workers place the mass of mostly dead micro-organisms into a sealed vessel and add a mix of new organisms that eat the sludge and produce methane gas. Kelson said that methane gas can be captured, and re-purposed.

“The next step of this equation is we purchase vehicles that can run off this natural gas,” Kelson said after the mayor’s address.

Hamilton said about 40 percent of the community’s waste is compostable, and over 100 tons of those compostable materials are put into a landfill each day. On top of that, Hamilton said the city’s busses, plows, trucks and other vehicles use over half a million gallons of fuel each year. Anaerobic digestion, he said, could address each of those issues at once.

“This is a complicated challenge, but it’s one we ought to tackle together,” Hamilton said. “What happens here does change the world.”

Among the accolades Hamilton highlighted Thursday were the city’s continued 100-percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index and its status as a gold-level Bike Friendly City. Bloomington is the only city in Indiana to have received those honors. He also mentioned how the city’s parks department was recently given a gold medal and recognized for being the best parks department of all mid-sized cities in the nation.

Hamilton stressed the benefit Bloomington will see from the 4,100 jobs created or retained by IU Health Bloomington Hospital, Cook Group and Catalent. He’s hoping the city will be seen as an example of a good employer, now that all regular city employees receive at least $15 per hour.

“Rampant income and wealth inequality is eroding our whole society, and affordable housing is an existential challenge to Bloomington’s future,” Hamilton said.

Looking ahead, Hamilton said the $14 million leveraged by CDFI-Friendly Bloomington will create significant affordable housing opportunities in places like the current hospital site, when it’s ready to be re-developed. The city purchased 24 acres of the hospital land from IU Health for $6.5 million last year. The city is currently choosing a master developer to help transform the near downtown site.

Mayor to deliver State of the City Address Thursday

By Kurt Christian from the Herald Times

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton will deliver the final State of the City Address of his first term on Thursday against a backdrop of music, poetry and more.

This year’s State of the City Address is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. The evening’s agenda includes a poetry reading by Emily Bobo, department chair of Fine Arts and Humanities at Bloomington’s Ivy Tech Community College and founder of Bobo Books. Generation Jam, a group of around 50 beginning musicians ages 7 to 84, will also put on an interactive performance.

Those who can’t make it to 114 E. Kirkwood Ave. will be able to watch the mayor’s remarks live on Community Access TV Services (CATS), on Comcast channel 12.

Last year, the State of the City Address was interrupted by protesters alleging the city’s purchase of a $225,000 armored vehicle was an act of militarization that would disproportionately affect people of color. City officials adjourned the evening’s meeting early, and Hamilton gave a full reading of his remarks behind locked doors the next day.

City officials urge lawmakers to pass hate crimes legislation

By Ernest Rollins from the Herald Times

Local officials are urging Indiana lawmakers to pass a hate crimes law this session.

In a letter to Indiana Senate Leader Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, Bloomington officials and others call on lawmakers to support hate crime legislation that would “allow judges to increase sentencing when it has been determined that a crime has been motivated by bias against a victim’s characteristics that include, but are not limited to, their race, religion, color, sex, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, housing status or status as a veteran.”

Some notable signatories include people with the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, the city council and clerk, the Monroe County Council and the Monroe County Board of Commissioners.

“Hate crimes and prosecuting them are sadly topical in Indiana in 2019,” Mayor John Hamilton said during a Facebook live town hall meeting Wednesday.

During the event, Congregation Beth Shalom president Lesley Levin said any law that passes must also address reporting requirements and enforcement.

Bloomington Police Chief Mike Diekhoff said Indiana law enforcement agencies currently are required to report hate crimes that occur in their community to state and federal databases. However, Diekhoff said, Bloomington is one of the few agencies that do so. And even though it’s required, he said there are no penalties if an agency does not report hate crimes.

Bloomington Human Rights Commission member Barbara McKinney said the city passed a human rights ordinance that tracks reports and provides ways for citizens to report them and offer support to victims.

Indiana is one of five states that does not have a hate crimes law on its books.

Talk of changing that picked up momentum in recent months, and a number of bills have been filed on the issue. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has expressed his desire to have a hate crimes law passed by the close of this year’s legislative session.

But supporters may face an uphill battle at the Statehouse. Some legislators question the need for the law, while others have stated their opposition.

Diekhoff disagreed with the concept that a hate crimes law would be akin to policing a person’s thoughts. And supporters of passing a law argue that incidents of hate crimes are under reported, in part because many police agencies don’t follow requirements and also because victims are hesitant to report to authorities.

Some are against the law because of the low number of hate crimes that get reported. Another hurdle is the concern of some lawmakers about who should be included. During a recent visit to Monroe County, State Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville, described the bills being discussed at the statehouse as those with lists and those without. Bloomington Chamber of Commerce President Erin Predmore said that for some legislators, extending protections to transgender people is a sticking point.

While some members of the Monroe County community urge passing the law, others do not.

The Coalition of Central Indiana Tea Parties has sent state legislators a letter requesting they reject all attempts to pass a hate crimes bill. A Monroe County native and Indiana Conservative Alliance leader, Robert Hall, is one of the people who signed the letter.

The coalition argues that a hate crimes bill is constitutionally suspect as it violates Article 1, Section 23, of the Indiana Constitution, which states “the General Assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens.”

Coalition members also cite the low number of reported incidents, and refute claims that companies will think twice about doing business with Indiana without a hate crimes bill on the books. They say businesses consider other factors, such as taxes and regulation, when making decisions.

Hate crime bills also do not align with the values of many Hoosiers and are unjust as victims of identical crimes are cared for less because “they don’t fall under a list of politically protected crimes,” the letter states.

“These bills are unconscionable because they show contempt for the moral and religious views of millions of Hoosiers by including ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as protected categories,” the letter says. “Such bills suggest that disapproval alone — even when expressed lovingly and peacefully — constitute hate or a hate crime.”

Even though the possibility of Indiana having a hate crimes law by the end of session is undecided, discussion of the issue is important. Doug Bauder, director of Indiana University’s LGBTQ+ Culture Center, said he hopes legislators reach out to those minority groups to try and understand their experience and points of view.

The proposed legislation challenges lawmakers “to start to think about what experiences may be like for other groups that live in Indiana,” Predmore said.

City launches "Year of Food" initiative

By Ernest Rollins from the Herald Times

Bloomington officials have designated 2019 as the Year of Food, as they launch an initiative meant to strengthen the local food economy and address issues such as hunger and food equity throughout the community.

As part of the initiative, the city plans to hire a value-chain coordinator who will examine the local food system and supply chains and take steps to improve them. Responsibilities will include connecting local growers to buyers, identifying and finding solutions to overcome barriers to growing the local food system and creating local demand for local farm products.

Autumn Salamack, the city’s assistant director of sustainability, said the effort will educate people about the local food landscape.

“We thought about this Year of Food as a way to really kick start that conversation and really amplify the existing efforts that are already taking place within the community through a lot of organizations and social services providers,” Salamack said.

The new position will be partially funded through a United States Department of Agriculture Local Food Promotion Program grant awarded to Purdue University and Indiana University.

Jodee Ellett, community engagement coordinator for the IU Sustainable Food Systems Science Initiative, said the grant is about $500,000 for three years. Along with the funding the city’s value-chain coordinator, it will provide funding for three other similar positions around Indiana.

Salamack said the grant provides $22,000 per year for the position’s salary and travel. She said the city will contribute $20,000 per year as a grant match for the job.

Ellett said the rest of the grant funds will be used to increase the ability of growers to receive food and safety training. She said the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act is a barrier for growers, and the additional training money will address that challenge.

Some of the grant money will go to the food science department at Purdue University to develop food safety programs for home-based vendors and users of kitchen shares like One World Enterprise in Bloomington.

Salamack said the city will be using the recently adopted Sustainability Action Plan as a guide to address a number of food issues facing the community. She said the sustainability action plan lays out three goals for the city: increasing equitable access to healthy food, increasing the amount of food produced in gardens and increasing economic opportunities.

“During the Year of Food, we will work with our partners at IU and in the community to strengthen the market for local growers and producers,” Mayor John Hamilton said in a press release. “When our farmers have a reliable local market, we all have a more reliable and resilient source of nutrition in our own backyard.”

The city’s plan to educate citizens will include special events throughout the year, starting with the screening of the movie “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste” at 4 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.

Salamack said the city also plans to study food deserts in the community, where at least 20 percent of people in a given area live in poverty and more than 33 percent live more than a mile from a supermarket.

She said the USDA identifies the IU campus and the area that includes Broadview, Southern Pines, Sunflower Gardens, Rockport Hills and Evergreen Village neighborhoods as food deserts. Salamack said the Bloomington Food Policy Council has also identified the Crestmont, Reverend Butler, Walnut Woods and Maple Heights neighborhoods as areas at risk for food insecurity as well.

“We are not going to solve food insecurity in the year, but it would be great if everybody in the community understood what our challenges are, what our opportunities are,” she said. “And we can say here’s how we are taking steps to address those things.”