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Homes for Iowa project

City begins first Homes for Iowa project

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OELWEIN — The city of Oelwein is getting a start on its plans to replace some of the dilapidated homes that have been taken down with new single-family residences.

At Monday’s City Council proceedings, a pay request of $30,450 from Brewer Construction was approved for work completed on one of the Homes for Iowa projects. Brewer has constructed a basement at 318 Seventh St. S.W. where a Homes for Iowa house will be placed.

The city has ordered two residential homes from the Iowa Prison Industries Homes for Iowa Program. Each home is three bedrooms, two bathrooms and 1,200 square feet. The city has paid $75,000 up front for the purchase and delivery.

City Administrator Dylan Mulfinger introduced the opportunity for the city to work toward a program to provide new workforce housing for Oelwein residents at the April 27 Council meeting. Mayor Brett DeVore and a council member toured the Homes for Iowa program in March.

Mulfinger said the city has an abundance of lots ready to work with a state program of this kind.

The 2020 lots are the aforementioned address and 219 Lincoln Dr., where a home will be taken down and the three-car garage will be renovated. Future lots include 20 Second Ave. N.W., an empty lot, and 933 First Ave. S.W. where a house will be taken down, and the three-car garage will be renovated. The Housing Committee picked the residential lots to be used for the program and plans on doing multiple homes each year.

Local option sales tax is funding this program to get it off the ground. The city has set aside dollars this year and next year to be used for a revolving loan fund for housing improvements. Mulfinger said the city will start with two homes then look to partner with community members on bringing in more homes. The Homes for Iowa house is expected to be delivered to the Seventh Street location in November and the city will market the finished home next spring.

In other business Monday night, the Council approved two demolition grant requests for properties at 124 Fourth Ave. S.W. and 321 First Ave. S.E. Other plans were made for a third demolition request at 407 E. Charles St. Mulfinger reported a local contractor Zieser Construction, working with high school students on the Husky House, had told the city he also moves houses and would be interested in any that aren’t too far gone to be moved. Zieser will take the house on East Charles and move it to a location out of the city.

Councilman Warren Fisk led a discussion on vacant houses in town and the policy the city had in place for them.

“We had a policy on vacant houses when we started this rental housing program,” he said, in reference to the annual fee the property owner pays the city if the house sits empty. “Some of them have a for sale by owner sign in the yard and they’ve been sitting for four years.”

Mayor DeVore said if someone is trying to sell a house and real estate is not moving, he didn’t think the city should be levying on them.

Fisk argued that there doesn’t seem to be activity toward selling some of these places that he is talking about. He said he thinks the property owners are working the system.

Councilwoman Lynda Payne said that in at least one instance, someone purchased a house to flip it and then passed away and nothing has been done.

Mulfinger said, “Are these vacancy rules working? I’d have to agree with Warren, I don’t think they’re working.”

City Attorney Pat Dillon said it’s a difficult call for the city because property owners can take properties on and off the market at six month intervals, and some do that repeatedly.

The Council may consider a work session on this matter at another time.

Councilwoman Karen Seeders asked about trick-or-treating in Oelwein and if the city was going to set hours. Mulfinger responded that the city does not have any governance on trick or treating for Halloween. While the city has set trick-or-treating hours in past years, because of current concerns over the spread of COVID-19, the city is steering clear of the subject this year.