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Why Hy-Vee's housing idea should spread across Iowa

Reprinted from the Des Moines Register Nov. 8.

One of the biggest problems facing Iowa isn’t simply the lack of jobs. It’s the lack of workers.

And to attract workers, Iowa — especially small cities and towns — needs housing.

That’s why everyone should pay attention to what’s happening in Chariton. Hy-Vee, which employs 1,300 people at a distribution center in the Lucas County town, is funding the renovation of at least four homes there.

“We think this will be a big factor in attracting and retaining talented employees,” said Matt Beenblossom, vice president of the distribution center.

Hy-Vee is working with the Chariton Valley Regional Housing Trust Fund, and they plan to use the proceeds from the home sales to refurbish more homes.

It’s a small start, but this idea could be replicated across Iowa. Why don’t more employers — working with banks, community foundations, nonprofits and local governments — find ways to provide more housing?

And why can’t the state provide more incentives to employers to provide more housing?

And if a company receives state and local tax breaks, why isn’t it obligated to contribute to local housing efforts?

Lawmakers should consider such questions in the next session, because Iowa’s housing shortage has become acute.

Ground zero may be north-central Iowa, where the Prestage pork plant is being built near Eagle Grove. Several surrounding towns in Wright, Webster, Humboldt and Hamilton counties already struggle with having adequate housing. The plant could attract 1,000 or more workers to the area.

Fortunately, local officials started an effort before the Prestage plant was announced to jump-start home construction. Wright County provided a $17,000 loan to a Clarion economic development group to look at how to add more apartments, houses and duplexes that are affordable to workers. Eagle Grove has been rehabbing dilapidated homes and tearing down those that can’t be saved. It also offers a 20 percent rebate of new home construction costs, up to $40,000.

Housing concerns have come up frequently in the Register’s Changing Iowa forums, in which we’ve gathered Iowans to discuss the sweeping changes facing the state. Our partner in the discussions, the Iowa Rural Development Council, has identified housing as a critical issue. In June, its members took a bus tour of State Center, Marshalltown, Grinnell and Newton to see how the communities were adding upper-story downtown apartments and single-family developments to address shortages.

In our Spencer forum, we heard Kiley Miller, CEO of the Iowa Great Lakes Corridor Development Corp., talk about how he spends about 25 percent of his time helping communities find ways to add housing, to attract new businesses.

In Fort Dodge, we heard Dennis Plautz, CEO of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, discuss how Webster County has attracted more than $1 billion in private investment and 1,800 new jobs in the last four years, but it faces challenges attracting and keeping workers. Plautz urged lawmakers to preserve Workforce Housing Tax Credits, which are awarded to housing developers by the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Members of the audience cited the need for new homes and different types of housing, such as downtown lofts.

In Marshalltown, we heard Wendy Soltero, business manager with the local YMCA/YWCA, say that Latinos helped bolster the housing market in Marshalltown post-recession. They provided the influx to buy the starter homes, so those owners could sell and move up to higher-priced homes. In so many Iowa towns, there’s no one to buy the starter homes.

Our next event is Thursday, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Smokey Row Coffee in Oskaloosa, where we will discuss the question: How do we create great communities for all generations? The topic of housing will come up — a necessity whether to attract young workers or to care for Iowa’s rapidly aging population. Please join us if you want to be part of the solution.

Investing in the future of Your community

Iowa community foundations are making an impact now and will forever.

Community foundations are poised to respond to local needs, both present and in the future. Locally, the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa has granted $85 million during its 61-year history. This includes a recent grant of $200,000 to Hawkeye Community College for its new Adult Learning Center. This building, currently under construction in downtown Waterloo, will be a local and regional hub for adults, including many underserved populations, seeking to improve their lives through education.

Community foundations also lead and convene partners around some of our most critical issues. CFNEIA is a founding and lead organization of the Cedar Valley Nonprofit Association. CVNA is a network of more than 80 nonprofit organizations serving the Cedar Valley. The group works to increase the voice of the nonprofit sector and collectively works to build and catalyze resources to solve problems.

These stories — alongside the countless others like it — demonstrate the tremendous impact and unique importance of community foundations in this country. From Nov. 12-18 we celebrate nationally Community Foundation Week, which is our chance to share the important work of community foundations in our state through stories like these. For more than 25 years, the effort has raised awareness about the increasingly important role of these philanthropic organizations in fostering local collaboration and innovation to address persistent civic and economic challenges. Though you may not yet be aware of your local community foundation, you’ve likely felt its impact.

Community foundations are independent, public entities that steward philanthropic resources from individual and institutional donors to local nonprofit organizations that are the heart of strong, vibrant communities. In Iowa, we are fortunate to have at least one community foundation in each county in our state. Two legislated programs focused on increasing philanthropic activity to enhance the quality of life for Iowans, the Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program and the County Endowment Fund Program, are implemented through Iowa community foundations. Both of these programs have played an integral role in distributing grant funds to community needs throughout our state as well as building endowed funds for future needs.

Community foundations represent one of the fastest-growing forms of philanthropy. Every state in the United States is home to at least one community foundation — large and small, urban and rural — working to advance solutions on a wide range of social issues. Community foundations unite their efforts behind the local projects and programs that will help the places we call home continue to flourish and grow.

As we enter the giving season, America’s generosity surges. Millions of people from every background will be looking to give back to the communities that have supported them. They’ll also look to ensure that their heartfelt giving — however they choose to give — will have the most impact. That’s why so many of them will choose to give to or through a community foundation.

Some of these gifts may qualify for the Endow Iowa Tax Credit program. These tax credits are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis to donors who contribute to an endowed fund at a qualified community foundation in Iowa. Six million dollars in credits are available annually to generous Iowans who participate in the program.

A gift to your local community foundation is really an investment in the future of your community. We like to say that community foundations are “here for good.” Iowa Community Foundations are preparing for the next generation and the next after that.

That can seem a daunting task, but it’s one that we can all share. During community foundation Week, I hope you’ll join us in recognizing our collective impact and the difference we can make together and consider giving to or through your local community foundation.

Letters to the Editor, Nov. 15

POTUS thoughts


WATERLOO -- Methinks anyone running for POTUS (president of the United States) in the future must have had at least four years of serious business experience. Remember Ross Perot, a presidential candidate and a prominent business man in 1992?

It would have been very interesting had he won ...

Youth concussions


CEDAR FALLS -- Over the past several months, I have been conducting pre- and post-season concussion assessments with youth athletes as part of my on-going concussion research at the University of Northern Iowa. I thank all the parents and their children for participating. I was very impressed with the community support and equally so with how parents found time in their busy schedules to involve their child. Moreover, I thank Amanda Stack, of Cedar Falls Youth Tackle Football, and Elias Riley, of USA Mat Club in Cedar Falls, two outstanding and dedicated individuals involved with area youth sports.

The youth concussion project continues and I anticipate growth over time. It is vital we develop, test and further refine valid and reliable instruments that can enhance our ability to recognize those who may have sustained a head injury resulting in concussion.

Athiest column


WATERLOO -- Regarding Justin Scott's request to honor atheists on Veterans Day (Nov. 10), I find it misplaced. Everyone in the military is free to follow their own beliefs. Sponsors of veterans' activities should be free to decide what they want to include. As a Lutheran I have attended veterans' ceremonies at Blessed Sacrament and Columbus High School. I did not feel obligated to request they change their ceremony for my religion. They were honoring veterans, not simply Catholic veterans.

I would suggest if you wish to have an atheist-centered ceremony, you organize one. Most civil sponsored celebrations have a nondenominational prayer. I assume you would object to that. My other question would be are you a veteran or simply stirring things up? Anyone objecting to a Veterans Day celebration need only walk away, or maybe take a knee during the anthem and you will be asked to leave.

Grassley actions


WATERLOO -- I have been embarrassed by Chuck Grassley innumerable times. He's looked us in the eye and lied more often than he told the truth about health care, taxes and other important issues. He has aided and abetted his fellow Republicans as they stood in the way of Supreme Court nominees and blocked needed legislation to the point of ridiculousness, and at the expense of veterans, students, elderly, disabled and so many other groups it would be impossible to list them all here.

Currently, he's doing his best to obstruct justice again by getting in the way of legitimate investigations into Russia, Trump and his associates. The other day I saw a shining example of his callous attitude toward women. When he and his buddies were bragging about their new tax cuts for the rich, the reporters asked for their thoughts about Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore and the accusations he sexually abused a 14-year-old girl. Grassley and his Republican colleagues laughed, refusing to answer. They actually taunted the journalists when they continued asking questions.

None of them are qualified to represent us if they think that’s a joking matter. I hope we all vote accordingly.