MUSCATINE, Iowa–In late march of 2021, leaders from throughout Muscatine County met for the first ever Ignite Vitality Through Workforce Housing summit to identify Muscatine County’s housing needs and to inspire local governing bodies and organizations to do what they could to address them. A little more than a year later, the summit reconvened these partners, highlighting their progress as well as previewing upcoming projects and ways they could benefit from support from the Iowa Economic Development Authority and the Iowa Finance Authority.
Muscatine County Supervisor for District One, Santos Saucedo, one of the first local leaders to explore holding a housing summit to synergize county efforts, welcomed guests to the event. Then, Rich Dwyer, senior vice president for KENT Corporation, previewed some of the local topics of discussion particularly how the great growth in housing in the past year and a half has started to fill a vital need in the community. As he put it, it takes many components, such as good jobs, appealing amenities, and strong schools to attract people to a city, but good housing to keep them. “We need all these things to build a vibrant community, and housing is the foundation.”
Jodi Royal-Goodwin, community development director for the City of Muscatine spoke next, reviewing the importance of having enough workforce housing for people in all sorts of careers. The most recent Community Health Assessment has identified affordable housing as a need for the community, as people have better mental health, a higher likelihood of having a primary care doctor, and provide a better environment for their school-age children when they have safe housing that costs 30% or less of their monthly income.
Next, Executive Director of WeLead, Ken Brooks, discussed how West Liberty and Wilton have worked to create more workforce housing for people across the county. Currently, West Liberty has four new construction and rehabilitation projects going on that will yield commercial spaces with housing on the second floor. In anticipation of West Liberty Food’s projected expansion, West Liberty also plans to build a 45 home subdivision and add 24 units to an apartment complex. In Wilton, city leaders have worked with Housing 360 to make home ownership accessible to more people and have built or plan to build units of both senior housing and a new subdivision.
Director of Communications for Muscatine Community School District Tony Loconsole highlighted how adding more affordable housing will make it possible for Muscatine Community School District to increase its enrollment, which current projections indicate could drop by as many as 400 students in the next five years. Jeremy Pickard, dean of instruction at Muscatine Community College, shared how expansions to the career academy program for dual enrolled high school students would help create more skilled professionals in construction related trades and help students find a low-cost way to earn an associate’s degree. Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine President Charla Shafer discussed how a wide-reaching neighborhood revitalization along Mulberry Avenue near downtown, including exterior restorations, improvements to infrastructure, and efforts to increase home ownership, would make the region better for the many low-income children and seniors who already live their and to other young families that could move into the area.
Following a brief intermission, Manager of Business Development and Insurance Development for the Iowa Economic Development Authority Michael Gould addressed the need to develop communities holistically. Debi Durham, Director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Finance Authority, highlighted the variety of ways the departments could help with housing projects, including through redevelopment, workforce housing, low income housing, and historic preservation tax credits. She also praised Muscatine for the work they have already done with the departments and the future partnerships they will likely have. “You bring us competitive projects that score very well,” she enthused.