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Draft study shows strengths, weaknesses in Jasper County housing markets

Report presented Thursday in Newton, Sully, Prairie City

Published: Friday, Feb. 17, 2017 9:52 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Feb. 20, 2017 10:32 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Mike Mendenhall/Daily News)
RDG Planning and Design Community and Regional Planner Amy Haase presents data Thursday from a draft study of Jasper County’s housing market at Prairie City City Hall. The joint Jasper County Hometown Pride and JEDCO effort will be used to help local communities find housing solutions and stimulate population and economic growth.

Preliminary results of a county-wide housing study announced in December were presented Thursday at three community meetings in Newton, Sully and Prairie City, showing a variety of needs, barriers and solutions for Jasper County’s housing market.

The study is a joint effort between Jasper County Economic Development Corporation and the Jasper County Hometown Pride Program and was conducted by the Omaha-based architecture and strategic planning firm RDG Planning and Design.

The meetings Thursday were informal, and RDG presenter Amy Haase focused information on the towns represented in the audience.

Hometown Pride Community Coach Jeff Davidson emphasized during the Prairie City meeting Thursday that the report is not a final draft, but still gives a good look at the current state of the housing market in Jasper County.

“Next we can discuss how do we move forward, how do we get more housing in our towns in Jasper County, more kids in the school district and what sort of strategies we should be focused on,” Davidson said.

The 121-page study gives a comprehensive breakdown of population trends such as age cohort migrations and growth projections for each of the nine Jasper County Hometown Pride communities, as well as housing occupancy changes and building permit activities over time.

RDG took the information to approximate needed housing development rates to either continue or spark growth in the communities.

For example, Newton currently has a shortage of units for households making less than $25,000 and more than $100,000 per year. According to RDG, most new construction in Newton will likely cost more than $130,000, causing demand for lower cost units to be met by existing housing.

But demand also exists for an additional 141 rental units priced below $700 per month. The report states “many of these units may need to be generated through affordable senior housing units and other tax credit products.”

The draft report details the county’s positive housing resources such as its proximity to the Des Moines metro, resources for builders, a stronger than average job market and quality existing housing stock.

RDG also sees organizational resources such as JEDCO and the Newton Housing and Development Corporation as advantages for future housing growth, as well as quality communities and schools which is attractive to developers and families.

Some challenges which exist for Jasper County’s smaller towns include a lack of senior housing, stagnant rental values and a lack of rental units and a need for more entry level housing.

The report found one of the biggest challenges for Jasper County towns is a “dwindling supply” of available lots.

“Over the last few decades, we’ve seen communities in rural areas just see no growth, or no new development, because no one is willing to come in and take that risk,” Haase said. “We see communities doing exactly what we see here in Jasper County, the communities stepping up and saying we’ve got to be on the front end on lot development.”

RDG put Newton in a different category from the other Hometown Pride communities in terms of lot development. According to Haase, in 2011 the county seat had no new lots being created. That has changed with incentive programs, work by the NHDC and community marketing such as the Get to Know Newton campaign.

Haase said this will allow Newton’s housing market to, eventually, be driven by private developers with city programs taking a more targeted approach in development assistance.

“(Newton was) at a point where they had to jump start their market,” she said. “Ultimately, Newton is the size community that should be more of a self sustaining market.”

She anticipates the city’s housing incentive programs to continue, eventually transitioning them to targeted housing price points. But Newton’s size should allow private developers more opportunity to come in versus the counties smaller communities where public entities can help with lot development.

Some of the strategies suggested to tackle the lot shortage include exploring an expansion of the NHDC to assist smaller Jasper County communities, or using the program as a model to create a county-wide nonprofit housing development group for the rural towns.

Davidson said attendees at the Sully meeting were interested in the idea of creating a bank consortium to provide more lending power for developers interested in the county’s smaller communities.

The final report will incorporate input from Thursday’s meetings and is expected within a few weeks. Davidson said once the report is finalized, it will be released to city councils, Hometown Pride groups and “anyone who wants it.”

The community coach said it can be used as a catalyst for conversation by groups and city leaders as housing plans are developed throughout the county.

“When we get the final report, I think that’s our next step, to look at what the range of options are, what our priorities are in each individual community,” Davidson said. “We can start those discussions at Hometown Pride and eventually get to the city council our your local economic development council.”

Prairie City Mayor Chad Alleger is in a different position than many small town leaders represented in the report. Prairie City has seen an annual 2 percent growth rates since the 2000s and, according to the study, a 1 percent annual rate of growth could reach a population of 2,145 by 2030.

Alleger said he was encouraged to see the data presented Thursday reflected what he’s seeing on the ground in his town — a population and housing demand increase with a dwindling supply.

Alleger said he hopes the report will spark more interest in lot development both by the city and private developers.

“Our biggest issue is where to develop. We only have one lot left that’s capable of development around town,” Alleger said. “I know cities don’t want to be in the real estate business but if we plot a section and do the infrastructure to entice builders to come in, it will increase growth. There are people moving to Prairie City because it’s cheaper to live here and we want that to continue.”

Contact Mike Mendenhall at mmendenhall@newtondailynews.com

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