Housing group attempting to solve countrywide rural crisis

Leaders across Wayne County organize local committee

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Rural Iowa has a housing crisis. A group of civic leaders across Wayne County have come together to take the first steps in solving the problem.

At the Oct. 24 meeting of the Corydon City Council, Denise Becker, Jared Chambers and Dave Daughton were present representing Wayne County Housing Development. Other committee members include Caleb Housh, Bonita Wells and President David Dotts.

“We’re very excited about where we’re headed,” Daughton said. “When I talk about our community, we have a group of people that live around Wayne County who are very interested in this. It’s not just the City of Corydon. We have members from Seymour, Humeston—we want to get members from all around the county to be able to help work on this project.

“It’s no secret we need housing. For the past 25 years, people have been talking about it.

“Over the past several months, a group of us have met with several people, particularly an architectural firm out of Des Moines, McClure Engineering Company. This award-winning organization has done some things with other communities—our size and bigger.

“We have endeavored to hire them to complete a housing study and develop a plan for housing, including working with developers, bringing them in right away.”

“It’s a county-wide study,” Chambers said.

“They will come in and talk to the community leaders,” Becker said. “One thing we’d like to come out of tonight, we’d like a representative from the City of Corydon, from the Council or the Mayor—we’d like to have a representative from each town on our committee.”

“The Council would be more than happy to have at least one person,” Nathan Bennett said.

“We’re going to all the City Councils, all the major employers and the County,” Daughton said. “With Corydon being the County seat, a big chunk of it is going to be here. Not only are we short of housing now, we are well aware that within the next two years East Penn is going to open up that plant and hire over 200 people. That could be a huge boon for Corydon and all of Wayne County no matter what. It’s got to be a team effort. Anything the City can do financially, we need to do that.

“But the more housing we’re able to develop within Wayne County, to get people to move here, that means even more, and it means a lot more to the school districts. Because if they’re living in Mercer, as an example, and driving up here, they aren’t coming to our schools.”

Daughton is Superintendent at Wayne Community School District.

“That’s part of the reason I’m on this, and I’ve been part of it for a number of years,” said Daughton.

Ken Holmes asked if the study would focus on younger people.

“Any and all types of housing,” Daughton replied. “For senior citizens, for young people, for people coming in to work at the factory, for people coming here just to live and have their kids go to school—we need it for everybody. And [McClure] will help develop that plan.”

McClure Engineering is charging $27,000 to complete the Wayne County study. It will begin Jan. 1, 2019 and take approximately three months. The group has already raised $10,500 with a few large donations.

Once McClure completes its plan, community leaders will know the number of housing units necessary and what kind of units should be built.

“It’s going to create a roadmap for Wayne County to move forward with,” Chambers said.

McClure initially proposed a more comprehensive and expensive study, one that involved amenities such as art galleries, breweries, etc. that tend to draw people to a location and retain them.

“It’s a good idea, it’s just we need to start with the housing first,” Daughton said.

“Then we might continue and look at some of those amenities,” Becker said.

“Caleb Housh talked to Stanton, a town smaller than Corydon,” Daughton said. “McClure did amenities and housing for Stanton. Stanton was very pleased. What Caleb said was they wished they’d done the whole county at once rather than just the town of Stanton.

“Wayne County Development Corporation is highly involved in it. What we’re looking for is participation. Also, quiet honestly, what we’re looking for are funds to help pay for the study, and we’re going to find them one way or another. If we don’t raise enough money, someone on this committee is going to have to do a lot of dishes—but we’re going to raise this money. If we raise more than what we need, that’s fine, we’ll keep it around for when we start implementing the plan.”

“We’d spun our wheels for a long time,” Becker said of the committee’s decision to approve an agreement with McClure, along with the imminent expansion of East Penn. “We decided we couldn’t wait.”

“The time is now,” Eric Jaeckel said.

In June of 2016, a rental housing study was completed. The survey was sent to employees of the largest employers in Wayne County. It showed where people that work in the community live and how far they commute.

The survey is available for public consumption at Becker’s office at the courthouse in Corydon.

“A [large] percentage that work in the county drive more than 30 miles to get here,” Daughton said.

“Over two years ago, when we first met with East Penn,” Becker said, “when they were considering [Corydon], they asked for this laborshed survey. They helped Wayne County Development and some other people pay for it. That helped East Penn make their decision whether they could find workers or not.”

“Once the plan’s laid out, [McClure] will put us in contact with developers,” Daughton said. “They’re going to do that type of stuff for us and tell us where we can get the funding to do it. Bottom line is, according to anything I’ve ever heard, developers cannot come in here and make these work—they won’t pencil out. There are going to have to be grant funds to help us do construction, maintenance, etc.”

“Having the study done opens the doors for those grants to come in easier,” Chambers said.

“When developers go to the bank, they have to have this information,” Becker said, “to get the loans and whatever else is needed.”

“Our full intent is to include anything and everything people are already doing,” Daughton said. “They’re buying houses, rehabbing them, flipping them; they’re doing apartments; there are multiple places in town where there are developments they want to promote. All of it’s part of it—McClure will come in and see all this stuff that’s happening, and develop a plan—‘This is what you need to be doing, this is where you need to put your resources.’”

“Pending a plan that is implementable, we can then budget X amount of dollars for infrastructure for this plan,” Jaeckel said.

“You can’t take any action tonight anyway,” Daughton said. “But it’s something for you to consider.”

For more on this story, please see the Oct. 30, 2018 edition of The Wayne County Independent