Homes for Iowa seeks to meet several needs with one simple program.
Gandhi wisely said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” That’s a nicer way of saying, “Stop complaining and do something about it.”
A group of Iowa construction industry professionals did just that in 2019. Representatives from across the state joined to form Homes for Iowa, a 501(c)(3) organization seeking to address Iowa’s housing shortage in a unique way. Homes for Iowa addresses several changes state leaders wished to see: affordable housing for rural communities, more skilled tradespeople, and lower recidivism rates.
“We heard about a South Dakota program training prisoners in the skilled trades,” says board member Jay Iverson, Executive Director of the HBA of Iowa. “So a group of us traveled there to check it out to see if we could do something similar.”
The South Dakota organization not only allowed Iowa’s team to tour a build site, but the organization willingly advised and encouraged Homes for Iowa as the nonprofit got started.
“We broke ground last June, with Governor Kim Reynolds on hand and leaders from Iowa Prison Industries, who manage the program, as well as many of our board members,” Iverson says. “The first two homes were delivered this past March, and four more have been placed in Jefferson and Perry.”
The 3-bedroom, 2-bath homes, which sell for about $75,000, are built entirely by crews of offenders housed at the Newton Correctional Facility. “They do everything,” Iverson says, “framing, exterior, roofing, HVAC, all of it. We have partners who are there teaching and supervising, but training these men in the skilled trades is part of the program, so the hands-on work is theirs.”
The first year has been challenging, but the organization is optimistic about the future and encouraged by the response to the initial efforts. “We currently have eight homes under construction and are pouring pads to build four more at the Newton facility so we can have a dozen builds going at once,” says Iverson. “Our long-term goal is to build 875 homes in the next 10 years, but our goal this year is to partner with more developers so we can place all the homes we’re building.”
The 1,200-square-foot ranch homes can be placed on a slab or a basement foundation, with the option of adding a garage or deck after the home is situated. According to Homes for Iowa, “Homes are delivered ‘turn key’ in one piece by a home mover. Everything is complete except for floor coverings and appliances.”
Appraised as high as $190,000 in some communities, these stick-built, energy-efficient homes meet a growing need across the state. “Demand is high and supply is short,” Homes for Iowa says. “How do we attract workers, teachers, and skilled tradespeople to rural areas if there is no housing available?” In addition, economic development is a challenge for rural communities if companies cannot assure potential employees that affordable housing is available.
The Homes for Iowa program seeks to meet those challenges head-on, and the goal is to be self-sustaining. “We’ve partnered with COGs [Councils of Governments] across the state,” explains Iverson. “Iowa Prison Industries, which already had a cabinet-making division, is managing the construction on-site at the prison facility. We’re ramped up and ready to go with up to a dozen builds at once. We just need development partners and community partners where jobs are growing and homes are needed.”
Since the homes are practically move-in ready when they arrive, using the program is relatively simple from a development standpoint. “Some rural communities are so eager for developers and builders, they’re offering free lots,” Iverson says. “It’s not a matter of finding willing communities or eager buyers. We just need developers to partner with us to meet that demand.”
The organization also has visions of adding a house-moving service in order to eliminate the high cost of transporting the finished homes from the build site to the community.
“There’s been talk of partnering with the women’s correctional facility in Mitchellville, too,” Iverson says. “DMACC is already teaching construction trade classes there, so it would be a good fit. And we know that, statistically, recidivism rates go down for offenders who are taught a marketable trade.”
In South Dakota, where a similar program has been in existence for several years, employers are eager to hire program participants as soon as they are released. Iowa’s need for talented tradespeople would indicate that the same could be expected here.
Tackling just one societal need can be an uphill battle. Addressing three seems impossible. But Homes for Iowa has found a relatively simple way to meet all of those needs at once.
That is the kind of change we can all use right about now.
Developer Open House July 22
To help get the Homes for Iowa message out to interested developers, the organization is hosting a Developer Open House on Wednesday, July 22 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
The event will be held at the Homes for Iowa building site:
307 S 60th Avenue W in Newton.
Attendees can tour the nine homes currently under construction, see how they’re built, and learn more about partnering as a developer with Homes for Iowa.
Representatives from Iowa Prison Industries and board members from Homes for Iowa will be on hand as well.
No RSVP will be required. Refreshment and snacks will be served. For more information contact Director Dan Clark at Dan.Clark@Iowa.gov