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"Homes for Iowa" Program Delivers Affordable Housing

Many Iowans have found that building an affordable home can seem like an insurmountable challenge, and the pandemic caused labor and supply issues that made the situation even worse. In addition to the many costs associated with building a house, the buyer must navigate a gauntlet of legal requirements and create a budget that covers all of those expenses, including the lot, landscaping and finishing touches. Even an experienced developer who knows all of those processes can find it hard in 2022 to build an attractive, durable house for less than $300,000.

One such developer, Steve Gordon of Iowa City, was looking for ways to reduce costs for new home buyers when he learned about the Homes for Iowa program. This innovative partnership between Iowa’s Councils of Government (COGs) and Iowa Prison Industries produces moderately priced houses and transports them to permanent home sites. Gordon had worked on past projects with ECICOG Housing Director Tracey Achenbach, and when they discussed Homes for Iowa, he saw the potential for lowering costs for low-income families.

To date, Gordon has used the program to place seven homes on the southeast side of Iowa City, with three more scheduled for late 2022. “I think the quality is really good,” Gordon said. “It’s built the same way a site-built home would be built. The framing and the roof trusses and the flooring are exactly what you would see (in a site-built home).” The homes are built by minimum-security offenders at the Newton Correctional Facility and then sold through the state’s Councils of Government to individuals buyers, for-profit developers, and non-profit developers. The structures are conventionally framed like those built from scratch at a homesite, rather than assembled with prefabrication techniques and lighter materials.

Achenbach administers the program for East Central Iowa and says one of her objectives is to handle many of the worrisome tasks that are required when building and financing a low-cost home. “It’s a fairly easy process to order the house,” Achenbach said. “If you were to do any home, you would have to come up with your budget and see how the project progresses. And that’s one of my roles, to help you with that. We help identify if there are potential sources for down-payment assistance for the buyers, if that’s what they need.”

Last year the state allocated $10 million to grow and sustain Homes for Iowa, which benefits from collaboration between government agencies, private developers and non-profit organizations. Councils of Government, such as ECICOG, originate all sales orders and help to market the program.

Developer Gordon, who has worked with Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity on some of the homes he has placed, agreed that ECICOG and Homes for Iowa help to make the process of finding affordable housing relatively simple. “It’s an easy process to order the home,” Gordon said. “They do a wonderful job. The cost of the home is comparable to what Habitat has experienced. It’s certainly less than what we could do it for, from scratch.” Click here to view a webinar about Homes for Iowa that ECICOG recently hosted.

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