Ottumwa community members discuss solutions to city’s housing shortage

Published: Dec. 21, 2021 at 2:47 PM CST
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - “We have a problem with housing.” That was the sentiment echoed at Monday’s meetings that brought together community members to discuss solutions to the housing problem in Ottumwa.

The meetings served for the Ottumwa Legacy Foundation to unveil the results of a seven-month study done by RDG Planning & Design on housing in Ottumwa. The majority of those surveyed indicated they want affordable two or three bedroom homes, of which there is a shortage in Ottumwa.

The study compared Ottumwa to similar sized Iowa cities to see how the cities stack up. While Ottumwa’s population grew, a rarity for cities around its size, new development is extremely low in the city. On an average year, the City of Ottumwa gives out under 15 housing permits.

A lack of new developments also means a lack of diversity of houses. The study noted there is a very limited pool of upper-income housing in the City, which means people of all income levels compete for the same properties. “If those [upper-income houses] aren’t available, they’re having to - either by choice or necessity - live in units that are a lower price,” a RDG presenter explained at the meeting.

The study offered five solutions:

1. Bringing in non-profit developers similar to Rippling Waters, which has bought up properties in downtown Ottumwa.

2. Incentives for medium density, which would give developers incentives to building in Ottumwa.

3. Gap financing, another incentives for developers.

4. Neighborhood or community campaigns to bring in housing.

5. Workforce development.

Ottumwa Legacy staff noted the last point is key, and that none of the others can be done without a solid workforce. However, they applauded Indian Hills Community College’s and Ottumwa High School’s efforts with construction trade schools for training future construction workers.

Attendees at the presentation were encouraged to write down solutions for fixing housing; like repurposing placarded houses, getting ideas from lower-income people across the city, and even efforts as simple as getting everyone on the same page about the problems.

To the last point, Ottumwa Legacy CEO Kelly Genners pointed to the recent controversial Bonita Avenue developer agreement. “I heard people saying there isn’t a problem with housing in Ottumwa. But we do have a problem with housing.”

Another Legacy staff member, Andy Maw, was encouraged by what he saw at the meeting. “We can take those ideas that are out there, figure out where they fit in our plan, and start making actionable steps.” He says the next step is to combine all these community members and using their resources to find solutions for Ottumwa’s housing shortage.

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