SPENCER - Housing has been a point of much discussion in the Iowa Lakes Corridor region for several years; it is a basic infrastructure needed in communities.
Some believe that the region's housing supply, both to rent and to own, is sufficient. Others argue that the available homes for sale are either in inadequate condition, or the nice homes for sale are out of the workforce price range.
New movers to the region have indicated there is little or no transitional or rental housing available. The Iowa Lakes Corridor Development Corporation often hears from employers that they are unable to hire the necessary workforce due to a lack of housing.
Recent housing needs assessments and surveys conducted in the region, as well as feedback from employers and new movers to the region, have provided documentation that there is a shortage of housing across the board - across the region and across age demographics.
The 2010 Census revealed interesting facts regarding housing in the region:
n Median house values range from $80,807 in Estherville to $140,437 in Spirit Lake.
n The occupancy rate is 89 percent or higher in all four counties of the region.
n Median gross rents range from $480 in Spencer to $559 in Milford; the region median is $525.
n Daytime population increases significantly in Spencer, Spirit Lake and Storm Lake (19.5 percent, 50 percent, and 25.2 percent respectively) and slightly decreases in Estherville (-2.4 percent).
n Residents living in poverty range from 4.1 percent in Lake Park to 15.8 percent in Storm Lake; the region median is 10.5 percent.
n A high percentage of existing housing stock is at least 50 years old - 37 percent in Milford, 40 percent in Spirit Lake, 50 percent in Alta and Spencer, 52 percent in Storm Lake, 64 percent in Estherville and 78 percent in Sioux Rapids.
n Housing construction can stabilize or even reverse population declines - Spirit Lake's population has increased an average of 1 percent/year; Estherville has been able to reverse the city's 30-year population decline with steady new housing construction.
Because of these facts, housing and infrastructure are key initiatives in the Corridor's four-year strategic plan. Several communities throughout the Iowa Lakes Corridor region have housing initiatives in place. These housing initiatives are a step in the right direction to address this issue.
The City of Spencer started the Quality Housing Initiative in the fall of 2011. QHI grants are for the acquisition of a new (not previously occupied) personal residence home within the corporate limits of the City of Spencer that was constructed on Sept. 1, 2011, or later. The appraised value or actual cost of the home and land shall be not less than $110,000 and not more than $180,000.
Bob Fagen, Spencer city manager, explained why the housing initiative was started. "The lack of affordable housing was making it difficult for employers to bring in employees to fill vacant jobs."
The City of Spencer, Spencer Municipal Utilities, local banks and Clay County joined together to make the initiative a reality. "This initiative has been a great success," said Fagen. Last year there were only four new building permits. Fagen estimates that there will be 30 building permits by the end of this year.
Sioux Rapids formed the SR2000 group in 1996 to address housing, medical and economic development issues. Employers were concerned that their ability to recruit employees was being hurt by the lack of housing options. In 2000, SR2000 worked with the City of Sioux Rapids and was awarded a $250,000 federal grant through the Iowa Department of Economic Development to rehabilitate 11 owner-occupied homes. Northwest Iowa Planning and Development administered the grant, while the city and SR2000 both provided funds for the program's match requirements. In 2008, SR2000 submitted another application and received funds to renovate eight more homes.
SR2000 is now ready to embark on another project: independent living homes for "golden-aged" residents. When complete, River Valley Townhomes will consist of four units. Each will have 1,500 square feet of living space, a heated two-car garage, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, cathedral ceilings, covered porch and aluminum siding. Initially, SR2000 planned on selling the homes, but more there was more interest in leasing them. Potential residents include single, widowed and married people who are capable of living on their own, but who no longer have the desire or ability to be responsible for a property's maintenance. Ground was broken earlier this month on the first two units. Interested parties may contact Lorie Wittmaack, Pat Reno or Carol Hermstad at 712-283-2525.
Estherville's housing initiative was approved by the city council in December 2010. The goal of the initiative is to encourage new homes to be constructed within the city. Details of the initiative include that the construction of the home must have started in 2011. The home must have a minimum size of 900 square feet on or above ground level; this does not include garage, breezeway or decks. The amount of the grant will be determined by the value of the home. A house value from $80,000-$120,000 will receive a $3,000 grant. A house value from $120,001-$180,000 will receive a $5,000 grant. A house value of $180,001 and over will receive an $8,000 grant.
Kathy Evert, president of the Iowa Lakes Corridor Development Corporation, said, "The programs under way in these three communities and others are important if we are going to put a dent in the estimated need of 1,5001,600 housing units in the next eight years. These public-private partnerships, as well as state and federally-funded housing rehabilitation projects, the use of tax increment financing and other tools are helping."
The Corridor is working with a housing developer to add new rental units throughout the region and with a group of potential investors to create a regional housing fund to help support the local community efforts. Evert expects more specifics about the Corridor's efforts to be available in early 2013.