Chronicle Editorial

What are we willing to do

     Last week, the Mayor of Hampton hosted a town hall-style forum in which he fielded suggestions on how to prepare for the impending release of the Franklin County Affordable Housing Study, which is not set to be released for about another month.

     While virtually no information is known about whether or not there is a housing shortage in Hampton, or if any other red flags within the document exist regarding the county’s position in the supply of housing, many are already under the impression that there is, in fact, a shortage, as well as a real concern about the quality of the supply currently available.

     Some would call it silly to worry about the things that one has no control over; to make plans and develop feelings based on a hunch does no one any good, and yet, it may have done just the opposite here in Hampton, and in Franklin County.

     No one knows anything for sure about housing in Franklin County, whether homes or rental properties, yet the meeting served as an eye-opening starting point for which members of the whole of Franklin County need to make decisions on.

     Boehmler has continuously said at Hampton council meetings that he does not want the study to end up on a shelf after it is released. The city, and the county for that matter, have already submitted and are in the process of approving budgets for next year, meaning that no real financial commitments can be made to dealing with the survey until July of 2018. It may seem counterproductive to talk about things no one knows anything about, but the mayor’s forum revealed more about our communities than it accomplished in coming up with a nine-month plan leading up to budget season: Franklin County communities are at a crossroads about the present, and the future.

     Approximately two years back, an apartment-style complex was set to be constructed in Hampton, across from the courthouse, funded by $3.1 million in grants, expected to add over 20 units to the city. The project ended before construction could begin, and the jury is still out on why, depending on whom you ask: the town’s population didn’t want the complex, or the ground was unsuitable for a multi-story, multi-unit structure. The fact that there is a debate on what was the real issue is cause for concern for those who feel more housing is essential to the county.

     Communities need to support projects in their communities. While Boehmler expressed that the project could have gone on anyway, he did say that the community had some reflecting to do, now that the money is no longer there, and the county is facing a housing shortage.

     There was also talk about the devaluation of new houses once they’re built, due to the fact that assessments are based on neighboring properties. Without a paradigm shift on investing in properties, new properties can’t be valued at what they’re worth. On top of that, there isn’t much available lot space to build new houses, and the properties that do exist, there is still the issue of cost.

     Residents also expressed concern with current rental policy, regarding the obtuse language, as well as the actual need for inspection.

     But for all these discussions about what to do about housing, how to address current housing policies and building new homes, there still remains the question on affordability.

     Houses are expensive. For a young individual making $35,000 at their first job, a mortgage is not something that can be invested on, especially with the other costs that come with owning a house. The city can encourage houses all it wants, but how does it get people to afford them is the larger question.

     Sure the study isn’t out yet, but does anyone really have any idea what to do about it even if we did know?

     Do we even have encouraging things to say about expanding housing opportunities in general?

     What this meeting showed was that Franklin County residents have a lot of thinking to do about how to help their communities. The more Franklin County elects to do nothing, the more that workers live in Mason City, Iowa Falls, or other neighboring, notable cities. More new workers living in these towns mean that there are no new customers for our small business, and no regeneration of our population. Remember also, new industries want to come to a place with a large employee base, which means there needs to be places to live. Hampton is already in heavy competition to losing out shoppers for its businesses; housing is a cause of the problem. If there is no customer base, how can there be a desire.

     We as a community need to decide if we want to make investments in the future. Do we elect to invest our tax dollars in bringing in developers to increase property values and affordable living? Or do we look at driving up the quality of current rental properties and homes to build equity? Or do we do both?

     Sometimes it’s silly to talk about the future, but this time, maybe it’s what prepares us for the next generation. We as a community have some thinking to do.