Housing assessment presented

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Sara Neuzil of UERPC presented the results of the Guttenberg portion of the countywide housing assessment. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

A countywide housing needs assessment began in March as a partnership between UERPC, Workforce Housing Needs Program, Iowa Area Development Group, CCDG and Alliant Energy, Black Hills, and Alpine Communications. The results of that assessment were presented, specific to Guttenberg, by Sara Neuzil, a representative of the Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission (UERPC), Darla Kelchen of CCDG, and Susan Kozner of the Iowa Development Group, during an open house on Tuesday evening, Dec. 13. 

Industry surveys, community meetings and discussions with realtors and lenders contributed to the report, which also relies on census data. “It’s helpful to have these facts available to you when it’s time to apply for funding if something becomes available. Another reason a community would do a housing study is to vision plan for the future,” said Neuzil. Meetings to develop the report on Guttenberg were attended by council members, realtors, lenders, and others.

Over 700 people commute into Guttenberg for work. “What’s preventing people from choosing to live where they work?” Neuzil asked. “It would be very important to your community to try to capture some of those residents that are commuting in now.”

“In Guttenberg, unlike many communities where older homes are a struggle, you have many older homes that are an asset – 85% of your homes are rated normal or better,” said Neuzil at the meeting. Most of Guttenberg’s housing was built before 1940 (42%), which is typical for Clayton County and Iowa. “Unlike the county, your assessed values show a different picture compared to the county as a whole. You definitely have more homes in the upper ranges compared to the other communities,” Neuzil said. 

Ten percent of the homes in Guttenberg are used seasonally or recreationally, and census data on income is attributed to primary residences. This skews the comparison of the median income in Guttenberg, which is more than $10,000 less than the county-wide average, to the higher than average home prices. 

The study found a need for homes in lower price ranges and an excess of homes between $150,000 and $300,000. “When we look at your current housing stock, projected population and new construction, you don’t need additional housing units; you need more affordable housing units. That’s part of the challenge for Guttenberg,” said Neuzil. “As we spoke with builders and developers, we asked what it would cost to build a bare bones ranch home. You can’t do it for less than $150,000, so meeting the needs in these lower ranges does not equal new construction – it equals renovation.”

The study identified neighborhoods that could use assistance if funding for renovations becomes available and areas of potential building sites that can be provided to developers. 

In Clayton County, 31 percent of homeowners are over age 65. In Guttenberg, 40 percent fall into that age group. Fourteen percent of Guttenberg homeowners and half of renters spend more than the recommended 30 percent of income on housing. 

Neuzil described the continuum of housing, a concept that illustrates the preference of young adults to rent, people in their 30s and 40s to own homes, 50-to 60-year-olds looking to downsize but still preferring to own homes, and older people ready to rent or move into assisted living. “Most communities find that building new homes helps free up the continuum of housing so other homes become available for people who need them,” she said.

Potential action items resulting from the study are the application for and distribution of CCBG funds; establishing a low-interest revolving loan fund to address specific housing issues, and developing communication between the residents to let them know what’s available. The 200-page housing plan document has a list of potential funding sources. Some communities also revisit zoning and discuss adjusting requirements as an action item.

One action item in the plan was inspired by Guttenberg’s policies on nuisance properties. “Many communities have trouble with non-compliant owners. Guttenberg is leading the way, encouraging compliance by personal contact with noncompliant owners, followed up by code enforcement,” said Neuzil. 

A draft of the housing assessment is available online at www.uerpc.org.

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