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Anyone who has tried to buy or rent a home in north Washington County in the past few years knows that the market is tight – there is far more demand than houses available.
Four cities in Washington County want to do something about it. They have joined to do a study of housing needs, including recommendations for improving the supply of marketable homes.
“It sounds like the inventory is low,” said Amy Haase, one of two consultants from RDG, an Omaha-based planning group doing the housing study.
The report will not be done until after the first of the year. The consultants spent two days last week interviewing people in each of the four cities – Kalona, Riverside, Wellman and Washington – and touring neighborhoods to see what housing is available.
“We are at the very beginning of the process,” Haas said during the sessions with community leaders that she called “conversations” about the housing market in each of the communities.
Haase and her partner Stephanie Rouse repeatedly heard about the dearth of houses and apartments available for sale or rent in the north Washington County communities, particularly in the low- to-moderate income range.
“I’m excited about the housing study,” Wellman City Administrator Kelly Litwiller said. “We need to bring some new development into town.”
Illustrating the point, Kalona Realty owner Tina Hershberger said that last week there were only four homes on the market in Kalona – two mobile homes, a house “in rough shape” and one on Highway 1.
“It is an elderly community, and people are trying to stay in their homes as long as possible,” City Administrator Ryan Schlabaugh said in describing Kalona.
“It’s hard for a single teacher to come in and find a place to rent,” Mid-Prairie school Superintendent Mark Schneider said.
Washington County Engineer Jacob Thorius said the county needs more housing for young professionals.
The small-town atmosphere, the good schools and relatively low taxes drive homebuyers to Washington County.
“People move to small towns because they are a small town,” Wellman Councilman Bob Goodrich said, yet there are few places in town to build.
Goodrich said Wellman has a number of things going for it, including a new community center, fiber optics Internet connections throughout town, a grocery store and two banks.
Part of the problem is that the market is so tight that there are few homes for people to buy when they need a larger home.
As a result, Schlabaugh said, people get into a home and then renovate rather than moving to a bigger home. This puts increased pressure on the entry-level homes available to buy.
Real estate agent Kris Westfall echoed Schlabaugh in the Riverside meeting. She said the biggest obstacle in Riverside is getting people to move from older homes to newer ones.
“The existing homes that come on the market sell quickly,” Westfall said.
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