(The Center Square) – Iowa will invest nearly $20 million on downtown housing projects, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Thursday. The funds are made available through the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
Sixty-one communities will gain a total of 466 new homes through the Downtown Housing Grant program. The downtown revitalization will exclusively occur in communities with no more than 30,000 residents.
Reynolds said housing will attract workforce and help 466 Iowans live near where they work.
Fourteen projects received $600,000 grants. Each of those intends to provide at least 10 units. Three projects received $100,000 grants for upper story building projects that will provide one unit apiece. A brewery in Cascade that has been vacant for 25 years will be converted into 10 rental homes, and a former middle school in Jefferson will house 25 rental units. In all, two former schools, seven underutilized facilities and 52 upper story buildings will be redeveloped into housing. The Iowa Economic Development Authority has provided a list of projects’ addresses, types, funding, units and locations.
“This program provides a unique and transformative opportunity to both revitalize our communities and increase our housing stock across the state,” Reynolds said.
Ninety-four applicants requested $31 million in funding. Projects were scored on criteria including project appropriateness, existing funding and partnerships, impact on housing in the community and population size.
Reynolds has invested $100 million in federal American Rescue Act state and local relief monies in increasing housing supply for Iowans to live near their workplaces.
Center for Economic Accountability President John Mozena told The Center Square in an emailed statement Thursday that while the projects could be successful, it’s uncertain whether they’re a wise use of taxpayer dollars because of unprecedented workplace shifts in mindsets about how much work can and should be done remotely.
“If Iowa’s elected officials know for sure that there’s a long-term market for residential developments that give people ‘the opportunity to live near where they work,’ then they should share their crystal balls with the rest of the country,” he said.
As many as one in five jobs could become either a fully or largely remote position, Mozena said.
“Right now, nobody seems to know for sure what that means for where people will live, where they will work or what kinds of housing or amenities they’re going to be looking for. It’s an unprecedented time of uncertainty and change that’ll have long-term impacts on a lot of places, including these very towns. … But it’s an election year, and that federal COVID money is burning a hole in elected officials’ pockets across the country, so we get projects like this where the state’s subsidizing real estate developers to the tune of almost $43,000 per new apartment,” he said.
He said there’s a better solution: Simplify the process for building and renovate existing properties.
“Zoning codes and other land use laws have gotten so complicated, restrictive and expensive to deal with that a shocking amount of the cost of a new house or apartment is simply in getting government permission to build it,” Mozena said. “If Iowa’s towns want people to build homes there, the simplest way to do so is to become the easiest place to build new homes.”