“Community leaders agree that there is a housing crisis here in Wayne County,” began Jared Chambers with the Wayne County Development Corporation during the presentation held July 2 at the Prairie Trails Museum. Team members from McClure, formerly known as McClure Engineering of Clive presented their findings for a plan of action to help combat the housing needs within all of Wayne County.
Several groups and cities within the county donated money recently for McClure to conduct a survey and housing needs plan that could be followed to help with the housing needs.
“Although we have identified the problem, it is difficult to find a solution that is affordable,” Chambers continued. “Businesses and industries are growing but the housing shortage remains as the number one constraint to the economic growth here in Wayne County.”
“Quality workforce housing is basically nonexistent throughout the county and we knew we needed expertise to help us meet our goal of addressing Wayne County’s housing shortage,” said Chambers. “The steering committee team that consists of Caleb Housh, Dave Daughton, David Dotts, Bonita Wells, Denise Becker and myself, contacted with engineering company and their placemaking division to guide us to find housing solutions for all of Wayne County.”
McClure was founded in 1956 with a vision of building strong communities. Their mission statement of building relationships to help clients be successful is one that is appealing for Wayne County needs.
“A line I found on their website and I feel it’s great and this can be true for all of Wayne County, every town has potential and McClure seeks to help communities unlock it so they can thrive in today’s global economy,” Chambers added before introducing Libby Crimmings, Vice Principal Community Placemaker of McClure.
The McClure placemaker team works in rural communities with a goal to discover what each community’s challenges are.
“The good news is your challenge is not unique and you are doing something about it,” Crimmings began. “A lot of communities are not and you looking for creative ways to solve these challenges.”
The placemaker team worked together on their survey for Wayne County and placed their plan of action along on how to work towards the goal of finding more housing for our area. The plan is outlined on the www.waynecountyhousing.com website.
“We know there is a problem,” said Crimmings. “We don’t have enough housing stock. We don’t have enough single-family homes. We don’t have enough rental properties. We don’t have enough modern rental properties, that are attainable and affordable for people.”
With the housing shortage already being of issue, the plans for East Penn’s expansion and plans to add approximately 250 new jobs within the next one to three years, this issue will only continue to get worse if not addressed. McClure reached out to local employers and the feedback they received echoed.
“Most major employers felt housing is directly affecting their recruitment efforts,” said Crimmings. “You can have a really great job, a good paying job but if you don’t have some place for people to live you’re going to have a real hard time attracting people and keeping people.”
With several jobs being filled by those from out-of-county, it brings longer commutes to those and therefore a loss of money within Wayne County. The 2015 census data shows 880 people are employed within Wayne County, but live outside the county. Without the housing available, the county loses tax dollars and other money that could be spent within Wayne’s economy.
Developers are needed to build properties in the county. Unfortunately developers need money upfront to begin building to help bring those from out-of-county into Wayne to live.
“The good thing is you have an industry here with lots of good paying jobs, and it sounds like even more coming soon so we need to decide how to incentivize developers to make and make it different than any other place,” said Crimmings.
Wayne County also faces the challenge of blighted and abandoned homes. Blighted properties may include vacant, abandoned, boarded up, dilapidated, deteriorated condition, with excess junk and/or poorly maintained. These properties create an eyesore to the community and typically property taxes are not being collected on them.
Currently Wayne County sits with over 1,044 parcels that are tax delinquent. This equals $405,104 in unpaid property taxes.
Wayne County, like many other governments currently use a tax lien or sale program, which will sell the parcel to another owner who possibly has little to no intention or commitment requirements to redevelop or maintain the property. This means our local land may end up in the hands of out-of-state buyers causing us to lose out on land that could be developed into new housing to fit our local needs.
With the plan brought forth by McClure if the steps are taken to move forward, it brings the potential of a major economic impact for Wayne County. A financial impact of 18.25 million that could be seen across the county over the next five to six years plus the property tax income.
“We wrote this at a county level and I think you are doing a really great thing approaching it that way,” said Crimmings. “You did a good job as a steering committee setting this up from the very beginning.”
“There are not many places that are developing county-wide plans,” Crimmings stated.
“There are only three,” said Zachary Manheimer, McClure Principal Community Placemaker. “Three out of 99 counties in Iowa and you are one of them.”
The housing plan from McClure includes the first short action of developing a revolving load fund (RLF). With the main goal of the RLF to be a way to spur development of 172 new general occupancy units by 2025 including 64 single-family homes and 108 modern multi-family units.
“Is this doable, yes,” said Crimmings. “Is this challenging? Yes. The good news is it can all be done and our plan is not meant to be set in stone it is meant to be a rough draft so if we need to adjust some of the targets or numbers you can see a substantial increase if we can get some of this going.”
“The thing we have to change right away as every community we work with is we have to have the belief it can be done,” Crimmings continued. “A lot of times some believe it sounds impossible and these numbers are high and we will never get it done. Let’s have a change in mentality and let’s start with it’s going to get done and we’re going to start now.”
Crimmings recommended the steering committee meet and work on the next steps for getting started with this plan. She stated it should take six months to a year for the steering committee to get some things going from the action plan.
“My suggestion is to get all the cities in Wayne County onboard, the county itself onboard and the private sector,” said Manheimer. “Once everyone is onboard within private, city and county then go to the state and sit down with governor or lieutenant governor or both of them. When you are ready to do that, contact us at McClure and we can set that up for you.”
“They have the dollars for this but they are not going to put it in until they see the local groups have skin in the game,” Manheimer stated. “These numbers are big we have shown and the money you need, the five million and change to address the housing issue is over five years and the impact of over 18 million is there if all of that happens.”
“One of the biggest push backs you’re probably going to get or you might be thinking yourselves is, we don’t want property taxes to go up,” Manheimer continued. “If you do this right with the economic impact coming in, you can avoid that. You won’t avoid it instantly because if you bond obviously you have to go up a little bit but then five years later you can go back to those property taxes.”
“Worst case scenario everybody’s taxes goes up about the cost of a cup of coffee per month,” said Manheimer. “This is not a financial issue and everybody needs to get onboard with that. If your county wants more people here and more business here you have to address the housing program. That is going to cost money but we found a way so you can make money on it.”
With the talk of more housing and bringing more families into the county to fill the new positions being created, the school districts will also be impacted in a positive way. Each new child brought into a Wayne school system will bring an estimated $6,000 per student into that school district.
If the exact format is followed put together by McClure, the Wayne Community School District could seen an estimated 609 new students brought into the school system from Corydon alone. Those 609 students would have an impact of adding $3.65 million dollars into the school.
The Seymour Community School system would see an estimated 359 students coming from Seymour and Promise City for an estimated increase of $2.15 million. The Mormon Trail School would benefit from the additional 50 students into their district for a $297,000 financial impact.
With the information produced by McClure the additional housing would potentially increase Wayne County’s population by 2,364. Of that number and estimated 1,015 will be adults.
“Six months ago we, the council of the City of Corydon bonded for water, sewer and street repairs for two and a half million dollars,” began Eric Jaeckel City of Corydon council member. “We bonded aggressively for ten years so we will pay that back in ten years. We are tapped out. Maxed out. We cannot bond anymore so what do you say about that?”
“The bonding we suggest is at the county level not the city level,” answered Manheimer. “You could bond at the city level but most cities are like you and tapped out. The contribution from city level of $128,355 annually for Corydon is the highest amount because you have the largest population. The investment would come from general funds but if you can’t do that amount from Corydon, do what you can. If you can’t build all the units at once, do what you can.”
“If Corydon comes to the table and says they can only do $25,000 per year that’s fine,” Manheimer continued. “Make it the same percentages then for each community.”
The amounts generated to completely address the housing needs and build the 172 general occupancy units are broken down with each city investing into the plan on an annual basis for five years. Following Corydon, Seymour would have the next highest contribution of $56,715. While these numbers come across as high and almost impossible, McClure reminds the city leaders of the gains they would see from investing into the housing plan.
“Don’t panic over the large amounts, these can be readjusted and the point is to see what you can put together to get started,” said Manheimer. “Even if you get started the state will be excited about that. Don’t forget this is money coming into the state as well.”
“Iowa has 3.1 million people,” Manheimer continued. “That is the population of Seattle. We are a city but we don’t operate that way. The only way for Iowa to grow is to get more people coming here. The urban areas are only growing because they are sucking people from places like here.”
“This program we put together for Wayne County, places like Des Moines have been doing things like this for sixty years,” said Manheimer. “You have the jobs here and you can grow.”
“Could the cities use vacant lots and give those and that be some of their contribution to this?” asked Board of Supervisors Secretary and steering committee member Denise Becker.
“Yes, absolutely,” said Manheimer.
“I’d like to add that when we hired McClure we made it plain that we wanted this to be county-wide because the number of jobs we have coming in here,” said David Dotts with the Wayne County Board of Supervisors. “We have room to grow the whole county here and this is an opportunity I hope we don’t let slip through our fingers. There is a lot of counties around us that would love to have this opportunity.”
Chambers asked to be given a challenge on what McClure would like to see happen in the next month by the cities and county as well as steering committee members.
“Within a month it would be great to come back to the table and each community be able to say they are comfortable with giving “x” amount of dollars,” said Manheimer. “It’s going to be a low number and we expect that but you can use that as your starting point. It will show momentum.”
“Meanwhile county supervisors start looking at what a bond would look like,” said Manheimer. “If you get the private, city and county together you can kick this project off by the end of the year.”
“I’m thinking that money wise you’ll be lucky to get $10,000 county-wide and I’m just saying that as the Mayor of the City of Seymour I know what my general fund looks like,” said Caleb Housh. “Can we approach it this way where we go to the Board of Supervisors and gather up all the tax delinquent properties and go to each city and come up with the number of lots as a starting point as that would be better?”
“Yes that’s a good idea to gather up all the lots although I challenge you to think of it as an investment,” said Manheimer. “Think of it as you are borrowing money you are going to get back. I believe there is a way that each community can bring at least $10,000 to $15,000 a year to the table.”
“I know it sounds undoable, but if you can’t I would love to see your general budget and sit down with you and see if you need to do a fundraiser or take up collections,” Manheimer continued. “There is other ways to bring in revenue.”
“We have to think further ahead to five years down the road and not just to September when we pay our property taxes,” said former Wayne Community Superintendent and steering committee member Dave Daughton. “In the end property taxes are going to go down. For every house we build with a student it brings in extra money for the school district.”
Dotts reminded the members, “Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.”
“The money is out there and you can do this,” said Manheimer. “You have to say we are going to get there and make this happen. You may hear 100 no’s before you get there, but it can happen.”
The time is now to start looking at the future for Wayne County. As Corydon’s long-standing slogan that can be seen as you enter city limits states, they are quietly progressive. With this housing plan the progression will be seen by not only the City of Corydon, but countywide.
The housing needs are very real as the businesses continue to expand. Wayne County is fortunate to have the job opportunities that are out there that many other smaller communities do not have available.
The slogan made famous from an Iowa baseball movie, “If you build it, they will come” could not be more true today with this housing plan. It’s time to come together, find a way to make it happen and see the county and school economy grow.