Bonita Avenue residents express frustration at proposed workforce housing plan

Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 6:19 PM CDT
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - A new city plan could see 108 rental units coming just north of Bonita Avenue in Ottumwa. The units would fall under low-to-moderate income housing, with rent sitting around $1,000. The CEO of Huegerich Construction, who will develop the site, assures the public his company will built quality housing. “This is our future. We will take pride in what we accomplish here.”

But that’s where the City of Ottumwa comes in. Huegerich says he can’t develop the units without a tax break from the City. At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, he cited rising construction costs. The proposed plan will designate the building site as a Urban Renewal Area, which would provide a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) rebate of up to 100% of property tax for 20 years. Huegerich says the “TIF is a huge piece that could make or break this project for being successful.”

JBS Ottumwa’s General Manager Joseph Mach is putting his full support behind the project: “I have zero concern about putting up some really nice housing.” JBS is Ottumwa’s largest employer, and Mach notes he has trouble retaining residents when they can’t find permanent housing. “We still run into the same roadblock where they run out of time, they run out of patience,” Mach explains, saying JBS can only put employees up in hotels for so long.

Some council members voiced some concerns with a 20-year abatement, saying if they’re going to approve an abatement for two decades, the City will need to see some value gained. However, the Council is still many weeks off from approving the plan. Tuesday night, they only took what was described as the “first step” by Community Development Director Zach Simonson: agreeing to consult taxing entities and setting the date for a public hearing. “This is far from the last chance people will have to speak about this,” Simonson explains.

And residents of Bonita Avenue seem likely to come out. Bridget Michael, who lives on that street, appeared before the City Council on Tuesday night to express her frustration with the plan. “Did they ever ask the neighborhood, did they want this? No one was ever considered or talked to about this.” She said she was worried about increased crime rate, as well as an overflow at nearby Eisenhower Elementary school. Other residents KYOU spoke with say they disapprove of the plan. One resident called it “ridiculous”.

The public hearing is set for November 2nd.

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