Allamakee County Housing Study is underway; Public input still needed

by Lissa Blake

More than 20 people attended a kick-off meeting for a countywide housing study for Allamakee County Wednesday evening, September 20. The meeting was hosted by the Allamakee County Housing Needs Assessment Countywide Task Force in order to launch the study, which is expected to take approximately nine months to complete.

The meeting was facilitated by Sara Neuzil of Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission. Recently, she has completed similar studies for Winneshiek and Clayton counties, the 7 Rivers Alliance and the City of Oelwein. The study invites stakeholders from Harpers Ferry, Lansing, New Albin, Postville, Dorchester, Waterville and Waukon to weigh in about both the challenges and opportunities facing people living in the area.

WHY STUDY HOUSING?
Neuzil said studying the housing situation in any area can accomplish a number of things: It can confirm or deny suspicions about a particular set of circumstances; give the county data that will help with grant applications and be shared with developers and stakeholders; map the current housing situation; identifies local housing strengths and challenges; maps out the issues and helps identify community priorities and suggests actions to address them.

Desired outcomes of such a study include: describing the current housing conditions, identifying new or existing programs that address housing issues, developing strategies for improvement, informing developers and community leaders of housing potential, utilizing the study as a marketing tool and more.
Neuzil said in researching property values in the county, she found a “disconnect between new housing costs and assessed values. This really creates a challenge, because developers need to be careful to know what type of housing to build," she shared.

CURRENT DATA
Neuzil presented a variety of current housing data, including the age of most dwellings in the county. Thirty-six percent of homes in the county were built before 1940, three percent in the 1940s, six percent in the 1950s, seven percent in the 60s, 12 percent in the 70s, 7 percent in the 1980s, 10 percent in the 1990s, 13 percent in the 2000s, and just five percent since 2010.

Based on a report from the Allamakee County Assessor, two percent of the county’s homes are in excellent condition, seven percent are very good, 17 percent are above normal, 56 percent are normal, eight percent are below normal, three percent are poor, two percent are very poor and five percent are in the “observed” category, meaning they have been boarded up or condemned.

CHALLENGES
Neuzil polled meeting attendees regarding what they felt were some constant challenges to the housing situation in the county.

Responses included: not enough homes or apartments to rent, or not the right configuration, such as number of bedrooms; a rental shortage; not enough space to build within city limits; low wages; properties which become inflated in the “tourist” areas, making them unaffordable for lower income residents; houses that would be affordable are too far gone to remodel or refurbish; long-term zoning uncertainty, i.e. if someone does build, they have no guarantees about what may go in next to them; not enough senior-friendly housing; and “walkability” of communities can be a challenge.

OPPORTUNITIES
Under opportunities, attendees noted places like Westwood Apartments, which offers a variety of affordable housing units; a place like Lansing is well-located to provide a short commute to larger job markets; there is low traffic and crime; Kids’ Club and after-school programs; the community wellness center and award-winning schools.

SAMPLE QUESTIONS
Neuzil said she currently is looking for input about what types of specific questions should be asked in the survey.

Attendees offered a variety of options, including: Finding out how many people would like to rent; future housing needs; challenges to building; whether or not incentives would encourage people to build, why they choose to live where they do; obstacles to homeownership; how they travel to work if they work outside the community.

Discussion was held regarding reaching out to non-residents who work in the county and live elsewhere to find out their reasons for doing so.

WHAT’S NEXT?
Neuzil said she hopes a person from each community in the county will come forward to serve as liaison. By the end of October, she hopes to schedule another task force meeting for additional data presentation, refining challenges and opportunities, and beginning ideas for action.
In October and November, she hopes to schedule city committee meetings in each of the six cities to discuss findings, review maps, share local knowledge, explore challenges and opportunities and identify actions to implement.

In December, the task force will meet again to review city actions, identify additional actions for the rural areas and county-wide. In January and February, there will be a document draft prepared and distributed for stakeholder review. Each community will host an open house to share what they’ve learned, what they’d like to do and collect public input. By April, the final document will be prepared and printed.

INPUT NEEDED
Those who were unable to attend the meeting but would like to be involved should contact Val Reinke by emailing aced@mchsi.com or calling 563-568-2624. To contact Neuzil, call 563-419-7334 or email sneuzil@uerpc.org.

To view examples of previous housing studies, visit uerpc.org/housing-study.html.
 

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