Elkader economic vitality committee looking for ways to solve housing crisis

Error message

  • Warning: array_merge(): Expected parameter 1 to be an array, bool given in _simpleads_render_ajax_template() (line 133 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/simpleads.helper.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to get property 'settings' of non-object in _simpleads_adgroup_settings() (line 343 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/simpleads.helper.inc).
  • Warning: array_merge(): Expected parameter 1 to be an array, bool given in _simpleads_render_ajax_template() (line 157 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/simpleads.helper.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in include() (line 24 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/templates/simpleads_ajax_call.tpl.php).

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


A presentation at the latest Elkader City Council meeting brought a lingering issue back to the forefront—namely, the lack of available housing and what to do about it. 


The presentation was led by ISU Extension Industry Specialist Mark Reinig along with members of the Elkader economic vitality committee, including Economic Development Director Samantha Baumgartner and Main Street Elkader (MSE) President Kristen Fitzgerald. It focused on their efforts to apply for the Rural Housing Readiness Assessment Program, but also established a set of future goals to resolve the numerous layers creating the housing crisis. 


As stated at the meeting, the goals include housing development, putting a plan in place with actionable steps, generating support from the city and finding funding options for future endeavors. The most direct question: How does the readiness assessment facilitate this process? 


According to the guidelines of the grant for which the vitality committee is trying to apply, and for which Reinig stated “Elkader is well positioned for,” the program essentially takes already established information, while also initiating its own study, and eventually interprets the data with the intent to “implement through changes to development codes, local ordinances and housing incentives specific to community needs.” 


As Reinig explained, once the numbers are crunched, the assessment will allow the community to develop a housing plan consistent with its needs. 


But what are those needs exactly? What is spurring the housing crisis that is leading the vitality committee to ask for roughly $2,500 from the city, as well as provide another $2,500 to cover the initial cost of applying for the grant? Specifically, how is this assessment different than other studies, including one recently completed by MSE and one currently being done by the Clayton County Development Group that clearly indicate what the general population already knows: a housing crisis exists in Elkader.  


Previous studies, which have produced little results, were brought up in an interview with Baumgartner. She openly admitted the existence of available data without the course of action to go with it, but also stated the problem has a tremendous amount of components and a solution is not easily determined.  


Furthermore, this problem predates Baumgartner’s arrival to the position, but there has been no lack of effort on her part or on the part of others to use available data to solve the issue in-house. But, as Baumgartner noted, there is simply “too much data.” 


In fact, the vitality committee spent several weeks in a good-faith effort to compile the data and form a plan, but there’s a certain expertise required when wading through the copious amounts of information and deciding how to use it. The issue is compounded by the fact one cannot solve this by simply building houses. 


According to Baumgartner, one of the complexities of solving this issue is Elkader’s aging population, the lack of transitional housing for that group and, of course, emotional attachments to long-held family homes and a likely disinclination to downsize. It leads them to stay, creating a lack of overturn in the market. It’s also unknown whether these residents would relocate even if transitional housing was an option, further muddying solutions. 


As an issue, the aging population is actually borne out by the data. According to the latest census numbers and ESRI forecasts, Elkader has a population that tilts heavily older in age. Between 2010 and 2020, the percentage of the population over 55 steadily rose. By 2025, it is projected to comprise over 48 percent of the population, which is an 8 percent increase from 2010. 


Meanwhile, the age groups typically associated with young professionals and families—early 20s up to 44—will be just over 26 percent, though it should be noted this number includes individuals between ages 15 to 18, so it could be lower. 


This number is also about 2 percent lower when compared to 2010. Elkader is trending in the wrong direction. 


Another problem is that a lot of available housing units are currently vacant, in need of extensive repairs and expensive renovations that drive up rent prices. They are also not ideal for families or disabled individuals since they are located on the second level and are set up like loft style living. 


According to the downtown housing inventory data provided by Baumgartner, there are 80 total units on upper levels in downtown Elkader, but over 61 percent of them were vacant or unused, mostly due to the costly nature of renovations. So, you can add lack of funding for renovations to the ever-growing list of impediments.  


The lack of available housing is driven by another problem, which Baumgartner called Elkader’s “landlockness,” meaning there is a lack of available space to even build houses or new apartments. Baumgartner mentioned one place under consideration is Breezy Summit, but nothing is definite until the information can be expertly analyzed.  


However, these are known complications from previous reports, so how does this new assessment make a difference and lead to actionable plans? 


For starters, once approved, the grant provides $10,000 that must be used in a given time span during the funding period, which in this case is before June 2024. The money can be spent on anything related to housing, including, but not limited to, cleanouts and cleanups, fixing facades or as a financial incentive to lure developers. 


Baumgartner mentioned, if approved, and unlike previous studies that were done only to end up on a shelf when a consensus could not be reached, this program will hold the eventual housing committee accountable, otherwise they will not receive funding. There is an incentive to work toward a solution, rather than put it aside for later. 


Additionally, and most importantly for Baumgartner, the program will help locate and get developers interested in investing in the area, something that has been difficult. This is where Baumgartner sees the study having the greatest impact, because the ISU consultants have the expertise to create a viable plan, identify what is needed in terms of housing units and make it presentable in a way that entices potential developers. Essentially, the consultants are equipped with the right words, having done this before. 


However, if the city of Elkader does not get this grant and funding, Baumgartner stated the committee would not stop looking into solutions. There are steps in place to apply again as well as to reach out to developers and find the missing pieces. What is stopping entities from investing and building in and around Elkader? 


The economic vitality committee will also continue to work on business welcome packets, assist business owners (especially start ups) and work with them on succession plans.


At the meeting, the council was on board with the program, and voted to fund the $2,500 to apply for the grant. The decision on the grant will come in October and help determine how the housing crisis is dealt with for the foreseeable future. 

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (2 votes)