Finding the housing ‘sweet spot’

First look at housing study shows need for moderate-income spaces

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS
Business and community leaders gathered at the Marshall County Courthouse Wednesday to learn about the 2017 Marshalltown and Marshall County housing study. Moderate income rental and for-sale housing was a need identified in the report, as was attracting workers commuting into the city from rural areas more than 10 miles away.

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS Business and community leaders gathered at the Marshall County Courthouse Wednesday to learn about the 2017 Marshalltown and Marshall County housing study. Moderate income rental and for-sale housing was a need identified in the report, as was attracting workers commuting into the city from rural areas more than 10 miles away.

It has been three years since a housing study was complete in Marshalltown and Marshall County, and new data is flowing in after a Wednesday meeting summarizing the results of a 2017 study update.

“The purpose of today’s presentation is really just to roll out the results, get the data out there and let that kind of sink in,” said Marshall Economic Development (MED) Director Tom Deimerly to an audience of community and business leaders in a Marshall County Courthouse meeting room.

A summary of the results was presented via phone and video conference by Real Property Research Group Inc. (RPRG) senior analyst Michael Riley. The Atlanta-based RPRG conducted both the 2017 and 2014 area housing studies.

General rental and for-sale housing recommendations made up much of the discussion.

“We recommend that new rental housing developments focus on these moderate-income renters,” Riley said. “This segment of the market is the most under-served by the existing rental stock.”

He defined “moderate-income” earners as those making between $35,000-$100,000 a year, and added many make too much money to qualify for income-restricted housing but do not make enough to afford many area rental options.

“A lot of these renters are renters by choice; they include a lot of young adults who recently graduated college, haven’t put down permanent roots yet and want some flexibility in housing,” Riley said, adding rental spaces with three bedrooms also look to be in demand.

To respond to those needs, he suggested “denser, garden-style” apartment properties as one idea.

“That’s the property that most people bring up when you talk about a traditional apartment complex in the city,” Riley said. “Modern, but it doesn’t have to have extensive amenities just because of the lack of competition and the older, aging condition of a lot of the multi-family properties in the area.”

In the for-sale, housing ownership market, his message was similar.

“I think a lot of the recent for-sale housing construction has kind of targeted a little bit higher price-points, in roughly the $225,000-$300,000 range,” Riley said. “I would recommend continuing to target moderate sales prices with a little bit more emphasis toward the lower end, the $150,000-$225,000 range; I think that’s where the sweet spot is.”

He added single-family homes in that price range, though difficult to build at reasonably moderate prices, are likely to be in demand in Marshalltown in the coming years.

Another focus of Wednesday’s presentation had to do with workers who drive from outside the city to work. He called this group “in-commuters,” and said they may play a key role in Marshalltown’s future growth.

“The county’s economy is unlikely to be a primary driver of household growth in the market area, given that there hasn’t been significant net job growth,” Riley said. “The biggest driver of growth in the city is going to be those in-commuting workers … they represent that untapped potential source of housing demand over the next three years.”

For the presentation, he said the in-commuters the city is most likely to attract are those who live in rural areas more than 10 miles from Marshalltown.

While Riley’s presentation focused on moderate-income housing options, Deimerly said the study also shows demand in other areas.

“The study itself showed that there is still demand in a lot of different income categories,” he said.

Additionally, Deimerly said the new data is encouraging, and that housing is not all about bringing in new properties, but also rehabilitation and neighborhood revitalization efforts.

“A lot of the conclusions and recommendations for numbers on this,” he said, gesturing to the presentation screen, “are very reflective of what we brought online since we did the previous study.”

The full study, comprising about 160 pages of information, has not yet been released online.

“It will be up this week for sure, along with this presentation and some additional resources,” Deimerly said.

He said the next steps now are similar to those taken after the release of the 2014 study.

“We’ll be tapping into the input of individuals and businesses who participated in the focus groups for the development of the housing study update,” he said. “Those are representatives of private industry, government, social services, real estate, insurance; it’s trying to do a cross-section of the community that is impacted by housing,”

Deimerly said those steps are set to begin toward the end of February, and that positive change will take time.

“It certainly doesn’t happen overnight,” he said.

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com