Members of a rural housing initiatve made a pitch to the Guthrie Center community Monday afternoon to help get new houses built in town.
The initiative is called Rural Housing 360, and according to members of the team their goal is to help small towns create a public-private partnership in order to build houses at a price point that’s good for employees.
Steve Gilbert, president and owner of Advanced Homes 360, said his group tries to provide housing for the “missing middle group” of people who are above the threshold for Lenders Mortgage Insurance but below the income level required to build custom homes.
“We’re not going to be the low-cost housing provider,” Gilbert said. “We’re not building a cheap house. These are not minimum viable product. This are quality, quality homes.”
Working with Jim Thompson, a representative with the Iowa Economic Development Authority who has been working with Guthrie Center’s Main Street Development program for more than 13 years, Gilbert identified a need for employee housing in Guthrie Center.
According to Gilbert, 797 people drive into Guthrie Center to work each day. None of those 797 live within city limits. He also said 147 people live and work in Guthrie Center, and 508 people live in Guthrie Center but do not work there.
“Part of that percentage of the 797 folks that drive in every day might choose to live here if you had the appropriate inventory available to them,” Thompson said. “And with our job being employer-driven and employee focused, we’re figuring out with historic unemployment people are really struggling to try and retain their best employees.
“So we’re coming up wth a process that helps facilitate that so the best employers can retain the best employees,” Thompson continued. “So we love job recruitment, but it has to start with retention where you can keep the best of the best here.”
He explained part of the 797 people who come into Guthrie Center to work might live on a Century Farm 10 miles out.
“We’re not likely to entice them here,” Thompson said. “But the ones that are our market, we’re asking what we can do to try and meet
them where they are.”
Gilbert said they work with cities in order to do things like waive some realtor fees and hookup fees for water and electric and generally offer pieces of land for $10,000 or less.
In one Iowa town, Gilbert said, they reduced the cost of one new home from $219,000 to $189,000 by reducing some of those fees.
Once land is purchased, the family who is interested in building a home goes onto Rural Housing 360’s website to create their custom-built home. People can choose whether they want to add things like garages and fully built-out basements, or if they’d rather keep their home more affordable.
“This is a math issue. It’s about finance,” Gilbert said. “It starts and finishes with being able to get someone approved for a mortgage and something that they can afford.
“Since the crash with Dodd-Frank and the banking industry, it’s made it a lot tighter, a lot tougher,” Gilbert said. “Even though money is cheap it’s hard to get your hands on it. People have a lack of cash for a downpayment, poor credit scores, a lack of available comps., and a widening gap of affordability in housing...You can talk a good game and have some kind of fancy stragety, but at the end of the day can they afford it?”
If Guthrie Center wants to go ahead and work with Rural Housing 360, community members will need to pick a “housing champion” to be the point person with 360. From there, the city will come up with strategies in order to make affordable lots available and being working with local banks and realtors to get the process rolling.