Mayor John Hamilton and mayoral candidate Amanda Barge debated affordable housing Tuesday night in an unusual location: a classroom.
Both Democratic candidates in the 2019 Bloomington mayoral primaries came to campus for the first time together to speak at IU Habitat for Humanity’s Meet the Candidates event at Hodge Hall. The primary election will take place May 7 with absentee voting beginning April 9. A student moderator from IU Habitat for Humanity and people from the audience asked questions.
Freshman Joe Bergin, IU Student Government’s deputy student liaison to city government, said it was refreshing for city officials to include students in the conversation.
“It’s no secret that students face the same challenges that other Bloomington residents face with housing,” Bergin said.
People who earn $0 to $40,000 or $50,000 a year need affordable housing in Bloomington, Hamilton said.
The candidates discussed the displacement of more than 1,000 students off-campus from the closing of McNutt and Foster Quads. Hamilton talked about the loss of housing for others in the community because of the extra students that would normally live on campus. Barge sympathized with the students required to change their housing plans.
Exchanges got heated on certain topics such as cooperation between the city and county government to create affordable housing, the amount of affordable housing funded by the city versus the county and the planning involved in building affordable housing.
Barge, currently a county commissioner, said if elected she would pause and look at how much affordable housing the city needs and how much it would cost. She would listen to people in the community and collaborate with developers to make a plan.
Hamilton said he supports housing plans but sees the need to act quickly on urgent issues, such as homelessness.
“We didn’t need a plan to know that that is a big issue in the city,” Hamilton said.
Barge accused Hamilton of not having a plan for the Affordable Housing Fund, money to support the building of affordable housing in the community collected by the city from developers. She said making the plan for the fund must involve the county.
“The public deserves to know when we will get there.” Barge said.
Hamilton shot back that the city came out with a plan for the fund in 2016 and has already used some of the funds to build affordable housing. He said the city has facilitated the creation of 600 bedrooms of affordable housing during his term.
“My question is how much has the county created in the past two years you’ve been in charge?” Hamilton asked Barge.
Barge argued the county government does not have the same ability to facilitate the construction of affordable housing because development requires infrastructure from the city, and attempts at collaboration have not been successful.
“The only way the county is going to make affordable housing is if the city and the county work together to provide infrastructure,” Barge said.
While the county has land to build affordable housing, Hamilton said infrastructure costs are high.
“Land is important, but you have to have the funding to do it,” he said.
Freshman Brooks Passarelli, a student in the audience, talked after the event about students’ knowledge of what goes on in the Bloomington community.
“I think it’s really important for students to know about the community of Bloomington," Passarelli said. “And I think it’s important for us to know how we affect the community as well.”