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  • Writer's pictureRoger Sims, Publisher

Opinion: 2023 should be the 'Year of Housing'

This year, 2023, may be the “Year of Housing” in Linn County.

The county has received a grant to hire a “Housing Champion” to assist in looking at state grants and programs to improve housing stock both in rural areas and cities. At the same time, the state under Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration has been rolling out programs to address the problems of rural housing.

It was the governor who in 2019 began holding meetings focused on housing across the state, again focusing on rural areas. And the problems were the same.

Not enough housing for low- and moderate-income workers. Deteriorated housing stock that homeowners could not afford to repair or rehabilitate. Landlords who were not interested in upgrading the quality of their rentals. Bankers who wanted only to make safe loans on pricey dwellings for customers who could afford it. And a lack of builders wanting to build houses for a working couple’s budget because there was not a profit in it.

Those concerns reverberated in those meetings across the state. And the result of that has been the slow roll-out of state programs that include tax rebates and some seed money for housing projects.

It’s a start, but it won’t be nearly enough to rectify decades of neglect.

City councils across the county constantly deal with dilapidated houses that need serious repair or demolition. Codes enforcement officers in each city seem to bring a new sad tale each month about a house that is too far gone to salvage or a homeowner who doesn’t have the means of keeping up their house.

For every house that is condemned or demolished, though, no new homes are “growing” back. And the working families have one less place to live in the community.

In an article in the Journal last month, Economic Development Director Jessica Hightower pointed out that good, affordable housing is a crucial link in a cycle of economic growth in the county. In order to have good workers for business, whether homegrown or coming into the county from elsewhere, you need decent housing.

We have good schools and healthy communities, we just need the housing. That will be particularly true as the county begins to grow a post-power plant economy and tax base.

The Linn County Commission this week approved a committee to work on that need. This committee will be different, though. Other committees rely on commissioners selecting three representatives each from their district, however.

Hightower has already taken steps to put that committee in place. She told commissioners that the committee will meet monthly to begin with and then scale the number of meetings back as the program gets into full swing.

While she has not yet revealed those chosen on the housing committee, it is our hope it includes people who deal with the housing issue on a daily basis as well as people who can help address the problem.

City officials have the greatest grasp on the problem. Bankers have expertise in finance and may be able to offer creative solutions. People who manage low-income housing and social workers see the problem from another angle.

So it makes sense that members of the housing committee be chosen at-large. It also makes sense that those who are chosen show some kind of commitment to the issue and are willing to come to meetings ready to work.

Our guess that the amount of work ahead of the committee should keep it busy for some time to come.

Our hope is that this is the year that housing issues are finally addressed instead of ignored.

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