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These old houses

By Staff | Aug 11, 2009

Marty Shukert of RDG Planning and Design gave a community update on the Community Housing Assessment Team study Monday at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

Estherville has too many lower-end housing units. In fact, if Estherville had fewer such units, the overall value of housing would increase.

That was the assessment of Marty Shukert of RDG Planning and Design of Omaha who reported Monday at Iowa Lakes Community College on the findings of a community-wide housing survey. The survey, and subsequent recommendations, were part of the Community Housing Assessment Team (CHAT) project underwritten by Black Hills Energy and the community.

Shukert’s report includes a study of market needs, strategic assessment, program goals and recommendations.

In his report, Shukert noted Estherville’s population decline from a high ofo 8,108 in 1970 to a low of 6,700 in 2000. He noted though that there are things the city can do to attract employees and develop housing. He said Estherville stands to benefit from the ‘baby boom echo’ over the next decade.

Shukert noted a number of slow-growth scenarios in which Estherville stands to gradually gain population over the next several years.

“All in all, it’s a fairly healthy population picture,” he said.

While new construction starts are less than what they should be, Shukert said housing additions were very stable over the past decade. Rental housing units actually fell from 782 to 762 between 1990 and 2000, signifying that rental housing is going to become increasingly important.

Shukert noted a large number of lower-range housing units but not enough at the upper end.

“People could be paying more for housing,” Shukert said. “The housing market is undervalued.”

Shukert said when people are used to paying $300 a month rent it’s difficult to get developers to build rentals that would rent for $700 a month, or current market value. He said undervaluation actually paralyzes the housing market.

Addressing the strategic assessment, Shukert noted among Estherville’s assets the ability of people to work together. He said Estherville was well located and had many positive features including the hospital, Regional Wellness Center, library, college, playing fields, Fort Defiance State Park, a new middle school and parks. He also said the community has “elastic” employment sources and is financially conservative.

Shukert did note that Estherville homeowners have a relative low housing value-to-income ratio of 2.17 or average household income of $35,550 and home value of $77,098.

That compares to a ratio of 3.11 in Spirit Lake with an average household income of $41,000 and home value of $127,693.

Other strengths Shukert pointed out were strong support by the city for housing programs, locally owned banks, contributions by Excel! Estherville, available building sites and senior housing resources.

On the downside, Shukert said Estherville is building an average of eight housing units a year when it should be building 14. He noted no new rental housing construction and rents far below what are needed to make new construction viable. He said infill construction is hampered by low values of surrounding housing and that there are areas in Estherville where housing is not in good shape. He said a rigorous code enforcement program would increase housing values.

Shukert’s recommendations included upgrading existing housing and improving marketing of the newer housing additions in Estherville.