An old saying is “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.” But sometimes it is what you know, and sometimes it is both.
That’s what those interested in promoting housing development in Denison were offered last week – avenues of information and access to people who can help cut through the red tape.
Last Wednesday the newly appointed members of the Denison Community Housing Agency and other city officials met and spoke with Jason Mohr, the regional administrator of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Grain Plains region (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska), and Steve Eggleston, field office director with HUD’s office in Des Moines.
Mohr has much in common with those he met in the council chambers at Denison City Hall. He is from a small, western Iowa town – Fonda. He has been in Denison a number of times in the past as a good friend from college was from Dow City.
Mohr and Eggleston came to listen to top housing-need priorities, as indicated in the last year’s county-wide housing study, and to interject where they could with ideas and possible funding streams.
One of the top items for the City of Denison is to gather data on vacant lots throughout the community. City Manager/City Engineer Terry Crawford said Administrative Assistant Christy Welch has been updating the city map in regards to information on vacant lots and researching information to see why they are vacant.
Crawford said a direction is to contact the owners of the lots to find ways for the city or the housing agency to obtain the lots.
Crawford also mentioned a new prison industries program offered by the state, in which inmates at the Newton Correctional Facility will construct affordable homes to be moved to rural Iowa. He thought the program could be able to provide one or two homes a year for Denison.
He also compared the depth of the content in the county-wide housing study to training for a marathon.
“Maybe you start walking first before you decide to run a marathon. This is a marathon,” Crawford said, holding up a copy of the study. “We just want to get started. It has a lot to do with fulfilling our needs. That’s why I want to start with vacant lots.”
Roger Preul, a realtor and member of the housing agency, said the top demand he sees is for rental housing. He said three to five people a week come into his office, looking for a place to rent.
“We don’t have enough rentals in town,” he continued “We have a lot of employee turnover. A lot of people rent as opposed to buying.”
Some housing developments are on the table and some are being completed in Denison. Evan Blakley, executive director of the Chamber & Development Council (CDC) of Crawford County, mentioned that he has been working on one housing project.
John Heuton, a contractor from Carroll, is completing duplexes on Oak Ridge Drive on the west side of Denison. The city purchased the lots; Heuton will pay the city the agreed-upon price of the lots once he sells the developed property. The program allows contractors to use their capital to construct housing instead of tying it up in the cost of lots.
Another possibility for more housing will be brought about by the planned extensions of Lass Lane and Cabalka Court, also in the Oak Ridge Heights Subdivision.
Mohr and Eggleston spoke positively about the steps that have been taken so far and asked those in the council chambers to think about options offered through programs such as Rural Housing 360 and the new Opportunity Zones initiative. Denison, along with surrounding property, composes one of the 62 Opportunity Zones in Iowa.