By JOE SUTTER
Fort Dodge has a great need for modern, up-to-date housing as expanding businesses bring new jobs to the area, Tom Chalstrom told the Fort Dodge Noon Rotary club Monday.
This nearly finished house along Soldier Creek Drive at the north end of town are being constructed under a program by the GFDGA to encourage developers to build new housing.
Chalstrom, chairman of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance Housing Committee, said building new multi-family units, building single-family homes that hit the "sweet spot" in terms of price and quality and encouraging renovation of older properties are three goals the Growth Alliance will pursue to help meet this challenge.
To help developers and builders, the Growth Alliance just finished a housing assessment, Chalstrom said. This will allow anyone who wants to build to have a better idea of the needs of the market.
Back in June, the Alliance broke ground on the first of four homes it sponsored in order to encourage further housing development.
Chalstrom said they should be completely finished in the next 30 days.
"Over 100 people came through them in an open house yesterday," he said.
Demand for housing is quite high because of the new North Central Ag Industrial Park as well as increases by other companies, he said.
"With the opening of Cargill and CJ Bio America, and some of the announcements at (Boehringer Ingelheim), it's an opportunity this area has not had in some time to bring newcomers to the area," he said.
Those three companies and Calcium Products Inc. are expected to bring in 364 new jobs, most of which will pay more than $41,000 annually, he reported.
Drawing on both the new assessment and a 2007 study, Chalstrom showed that, while people moving into this region do want to settle in Fort Dodge, they aren't impressed by the city's housing offerings.
"The predominant response was that the quality of homes is poor, and that availability of homes to purchase was poor. This is the perception of people wanting to move here," he said.
Part of the problem, he said, is a lack of new housing, as well as the obsolescence of the existing housing in Fort Dodge.
"About one third of our housing stock was built before 1950," he said. "That means a lot of our housing stock doesn't have the amenities and features that people are looking for."
Chalstrom's graphs showed that the highest housing demand is right around the $150,000 to $250,000 price range. Houses within that ideal range tend to stay on the market for less time than cheaper homes.
The city of Fort Dodge is being proactive to encourage housing development, he said.
"They've created what I refer to as a 'toolbox of incentives.' That include TIF (tax increment financing), tax abatement, prioritizing land for development, all these things that are available," he said.
"In fact, we say the city has used and will make available every sort of incentive under the state of Iowa law to assist in projects."
One of the housing committee's three main goals will be to encourage development of more of these ideal price range homes.
Second, more multi-family housing is needed, including new apartment complexes. Temporary housing meets the needs of construction workers and other temporary positions related to business growth.
"Multi-family development is happening in west Fort Dodge, across from the country club," he said. "We haven't had any multifamily construction in the past five or six years. This is a great start for us."
Finally, the Alliance has plans for what Chalstrom called "a Purchase Plus system." Though the details aren't set in stone yet, the hope is to help renovate some of the city's older properties.
"We're trying to encourage the purchase and rehabilitation of some of this older housing stock. Some of this housing is very affordable, but we need to encourage people to remodel, rehabilitate, move these properties from maybe a $100,000 value to a $150,000 value," he said. "It helps our tax base, helps our community, and meets a housing need."