What can be done to enable people who work in Ames to afford living in Ames.
There is no easy solution to the issue of housing affordability. Increasing the diversity of housing types, and leveraging outside funding are two areas where I see opportunity. Most of the communities surrounding Ames are offering products and price points that are difficult to find in Ames. The number of single-family building permits being issued in surrounding towns continues to out-pace Ames. It’s difficult to compete with the supply and pricing, and so it’s not surprising that people – especially young adults and families are choosing to live elsewhere even when working in Ames. I continue to engage with local developers, but council and local leaders must continue the dialogue.
Leveraging outside funding is also key, especially when addressing the needs of low to moderate income individuals and families. When I ran for council four years ago, I spoke extensively about the need for a local housing trust that could leverage state money to be used for affordable housing opportunities. Since that time, I have worked with a task force of local leaders and am proud to say that the Story County Housing Trust Fund is an established 501(c)3 and has been approved by the state. Our Housing Assistance Plan, when approved, will provide approximately $250,000 that will be combined with a local match to support affordable housing efforts. This is not a magic wand, but one tool. We should also work with developers to leverage Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) and continue to maximize the use of our Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars.
We can raise wages and decrease living expenses. Wages already appear to be going up, which is no surprise, given the abnormally low unemployment rate in Ames. However, our direct control of wages throughout the Ames economy is limited, particularly since the Iowa legislature removed local control of minimum wages earlier this year.
To decrease living expenses, we should focus on reducing housing expenses. Since a house that’s already built is generally cheaper than one being built tomorrow, we should limit conversions of existing single-family homes into multi-bedroom, multi-payer rental properties, and incentivize conversions from such rentals back into single-family homes. The current Council appears to be on the right track for this, with its moratorium on new rental properties in neighborhoods near campus and its directive to devise conversion incentives and a new rental occupancy ordinance.
Regarding constructing new affordable housing, while it’s admirable that a local developer is working with the city on the affordable housing project at the Old Middle School, we should be wary of structuring our future construction goals for affordable housing to rely (even unintentionally) on sacrificial proposals by individual developers. We are all in this together and we should all contribute in a strategic way. Our next City Council Goals should seek to create affordable housing units at a rate that’s related to the overall housing market growth, in order to encourage us to continually seek opportunities in a variety of circumstances all over town.
Finally, see the related question regarding tiny homes.
The following are ways the City can potentially help making “living more affordable”. Housing – lower cost housing options – both owned and rented
- Look at reclaiming current single-family homes that are rentals – this is already a topic of
discussion at the City Council level as well as in several Neighborhood Associations.
- Continue to work on the Old Ames Middle School property development to bring the affordable housing aspect to fruition, and subject to its success, look for additional opportunities to develop other properties.
- Additional manufactured housing “parks” can be pursued – there are a number already in Ames. We should always strive to strengthen and encourage proper maintenance of the existing manufactured housing parks.
- Creative densification of housing with an intimate neighborhood environment (backbone of communities) placed in small groups to reduce the amount of land and infrastructure expense that gets built into a housing development.
- Consider building houses without basements (include a storm shelter in the garage floor which is being done in some southern states).
- Rentals – work with property owners to look at conversion of student apartments into family rentals.
- Rentals – single family – work with landlords to rent to families instead of students.
- Tiny houses – please see my response below (question #3)
Transportation – reduce dependence on automobiles and cost associate thereof
- Continue building upon CyRide’s success; look at developing transit corridors that allow people to live close to bus routes, thus reducing the need for a car or for multiple cars.
- Finish the Complete Streets “study/procedure/design guide” and begin implementing standards to encourage, afford and create a welcoming approach for pedestrian, bicycle and public transit use.
When we understand the needs and wants of all our many demographic groups, then we need to be creative, beyond, I suspect, the current and limited offerings. Other communities in Iowa and around the nation are constructing co-housing units, for example, to meet a variety of expectations. Some co-housing offer high-end shared amenities and others offer a more basic, less costly approach. Long-term affordability for many includes shared utilities, like shared solar arrays and shared geo-thermal fields, and affordability is also defined by using sturdy, long-lasting and low-maintenance materials. Let’s get creative. Let’s look beyond our city limits and know that it’s not just about a handful of builders making a lot of money, it’s about understanding and offering a variety of solutions to the people who live and work in our community.
The tight supply availability of housing in the Ames area has likely had an impact of keeping the cost of living higher especially from a rental perspective. However, this same impact can likely be attributed to home ownership as well, especially home ownership at the entry-level market. There has been a great deal of concern raised about the number of new apartments that have been built in the last few years. While it is accurate that many new apartment units have been built, it also needs to be pointed out that during the last 10 years, the number of students at Iowa State University has grown by approximately 10,000 students, and the number of new jobs in Ames has increased leading to an overall population increase of both students and permanent residents. The occupancy rate in Ames had been hovering at about 99 to 99.5 % for a number of years. With the number of new units added, the occupancy rate has settled at about 93%, which equates to a vacancy rate of about 7%. An occupancy rate close to 100% does not tend to be very conducive to lower housing costs. Housing demand that out does housing supply tends to lead to upward pressure on costs. Whereas, housing supply that out paces, housing demand can have a downward or at least stabilizing pressure on costs. The Ames area is likely nearing a point where supply pressure on rent prices may very well lead to a situation where some people may look to turn rental occupied houses back into owner occupied houses both to offset the supply pressures and because the sales market may prove more lucrative than the rental market. If/when, that happens, it will have a positive impact in a number of ways, including housing affordability and the ratio of rental housing vs. owner occupied housing in some neighborhoods.