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  • Writer's pictureLynsey Krusie

A Village Establishes a Home

The Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine recognizes the limited supply of workforce housing in our community and the impact this has on our families and economic vitality.

We have a need for housing across all wealth classes in Muscatine County. Housing is vital for economic success. Among the statistics we have 12,000 people that drive into our county to work each day because they can’t find appropriate housing. One day last spring we had 28 homes for sale across the 9,000+ households in the Muscatine community. In addition, our children on free lunches change schools three to four times more often within our school district in a given year than other children due to high housing costs. We simply have a supply-side failure.

In 2020, our Board of Directors identified an opportunity to purchase and deliver a Homes for Iowa home to the city of Muscatine through the Iowa Prison Industries Project in Newton. The decision reflected a two-fold win by adding a unit of affordable housing to the county, while increasing the likelihood of success for prisoners who worked on the homes.

Recidivism of offenders that participate in prison-built home building is an astounding 30% less than any other trade training and better prepares participants for re-entry with the opportunity of living-wage skills in a high demand field.

Senator Mark Lofgren was one of the primary drivers in establishing the Homes for Iowa initiative. According to Jack Whitver of the Iowa Senate, “Working on unique solutions to increase opportunity for Iowans to have access to affordable housing, is a cornerstone of Mark’s legislative achievements.”

The Homes for Iowa philosophy is, “to address Iowa's housing shortage, train offenders in skilled trades and reduce recidivism”. Prisoners at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Newton, Iowa, are learning construction trade training for a vocation upon release. The training is overseen by Master level tradesman in their individual craft.

The homes are constructed onsite at the Penitentiary and performed to meet the highest standards in the state to ensure building code compliance in all jurisdictions. Charla Schafer, Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine, and Jodi Royal-Goodwin, Community Development Director of the City of Muscatine, went on site in 2020 to tour the facility and several homes under development before bringing the opportunity to the Community Foundation Board of Directors for consideration.

The home is a high-quality stick-built 1,200 square foot, three-bedroom, two bath ranch style home. The home is built as a single unit and is shipped via transit to the identified lot.

As developer of this project, the Community Foundation has worked with the local Council of Government to apply for a home. Denise Bulat, Executive Director of the Bi-State Regional Commission noted, “Bi-State Regional Commission is very pleased to partner with the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine and the City of Muscatine on this important Homes for Iowa project. The project provides affordable housing to a deserving family while improving a neighborhood and provides training in the skilled trades to inmates who build these homes, reducing recidivism and growing our workforce.”

The Community Foundation partnered with the City of Muscatine to receive a parcel of land at 704 Spring Street to serve as the home’s lot. Jodi Royal-Goodwin added, “Using the Homes for Iowa program allows the community to add a quality housing unit in an efficient manner. There is efficiency in getting a home constructed and ready for to be lived in as well as providing an energy efficient home to the occupant. Both forms contribute to making the home more affordable to workers living in our community. “

The house at the Spring Street address which was beyond repair, was demolished and the overgrown trees and yard brush cleared, improving the neighborhood safety and aesthetics. Hackett Construction worked within a tight timeline to perform all necessary permitting, clearing, and developing of the lot.

The new home was delivered late September. It made its route as one unit across the state and with local fanfare as it traversed through Muscatine, with a police escort accompanying. Muscatine Power and Water and Century Link stayed one step ahead, raising and lowering lines as it passed. The home was met by a crowd of neighbors and onlookers as it arrived at Spring Street.

Hackett Construction finished the project by ensuring all necessary electrical and plumbing connections completed, sidewalks and patio poured, and appliances and floor coverings added to finish the project.

This project adds a unit of quality, affordable housing for families in our community, supports the Prison Industries training model, and assists in increasing the conversation around the need for more housing in our community.

The home is for sale and will be sold to a first-time homeowner household, making less than $100,000 who plans to stay in the home for at least 5 years.

Schafer noted, “The Community Foundation is grateful that the City of Muscatine has partnered with us. Our goal remains to create an affordable, high-quality opportunity for first-time home ownership. It is truly is a beautiful home, inside and out.”

According to a September 2021 article in the Des Moines Register, “The Homes for Iowa program started in 2019 and is modeled after a similar program in South Dakota. In just this past year, Homes for Iowa built 24 homes. Squires said the program is hoping to build 36 to 40 in 2022.” Governor Reynolds recently committed $10 million to further advance the program to aid in creating home stock and stabilizing prisoner re-entry.

In addition, another beneficiary of the home is the County, City, and local school district who will receive revolving income through property taxes.

Schafer added, “The Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine is committed to bring a unit to West Liberty and Wilton, if both communities have an interest. Due to the growing popularity of the program, it appears that 2022 builds are already oversubscribed, so it will be necessary to look to 2023.”

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