Countywide survey will measure housing needs

By John Butters, The JOURNAL


Washington County?s largest cities are pooling their resources for a countywide housing survey designed to help them plan for future development.

Initiated by the communities of Washington, Kalona, Wellman and Riverside, the survey would function as an economic development tool by gauging the demand for new housing and providing a look at what income levels are in need of housing. ?The survey will tell us what the need is, where the markets are and what the markets can support. It will help us determine if our comprehensive plans are aligned with where our communities are headed,? said Ryan Schlabaugh, Kalona City Administrator.

The survey will also include the smaller communities within Washington County.

Though the county supervisors recently passed on a request to assist with funding, Schlabaugh said the group has raised a sufficient amount of money to begin seeking a marketing firm to conduct the survey. ?It will be conducted independently of myself and the other city managers. The marketing firm will gather the information and use their professional resources to provide us with the demographic information we need to make good decisions,? he said.

The information returned to the cities would answer questions such as whether new housing is needed, what kind of housing is needed, which household income levels need housing and where in the county the housing is needed. The survey would additionally reveal whether a community is more in need of starter homes, mid-level housing or higher-income houses.

The information could help government planners link housing survey information to other community development activities, such as road repair and construction, disposition of utilities and economic development spending plans. It would allow the administrators to ensure that infrastructure and public safety needs are adequate for future development. ?The survey might point out some things that we need to do; what services are lacking,? said Schlabaugh.

Each community would likely use the information differently. In Kalona, census data indicates the city?s population will continue to trend upward through the next decade. As the population expands, the once-small town will likely face a shortage of new housing stock in the coming years. In response, the city has acquired a parcel of land north of Kalona near a creek that has contributed to flooding within the city. The acquisition provides the city with an opportunity to both install flood mitigation and provide raw land for a new neighborhood. ?We?re hoping we can partner with a developer on a housing project at the site,? Schlabaugh said.

The housing survey will likely be conducted by mail, Schlabaugh said, because that method offers the best chances for gathering a statistically significant sample. The amount of detail to be gathered by the survey is substantial. The survey would sweep-up demographic information on population, household size, number of households and break-outs of income, ethnic makeup, special needs and whether an individual owns or rents.

That information would provide more insight on the current supply of housing, the type and general condition of existing housing and broad measurements of the location and approximate costs of housing in the county. It would also measure how much an individual could spend for housing. ?The survey will provide us with a lot of detail that we can use as we develop our comprehensive plan,? Schlabaugh said.

While the plans are still in a discussion phase, the project is expected to begin this summer.