Growing population fuels housing needs

Thursday, November 1, 2001

Echoing housing assessments conducted by other cities in Buena Vista County, the county board of supervisors received a draft version of its own study regarding housing trends in the unincorporated parts of the county this week.

Buena Vista County applied for a grant through the Iowa Department of Economic Development to complete a county-wide housing assessment. The cities of Albert City, Alta, Linn Grove, Lakeside, Newell, Storm Lake and Truesdale also participated.

The study shows an increasing population for Buena Vista County in the next 20 years, but also shows the need for more housing with that.

"As with many communities in Iowa and the midwest, the 1980s brought along very hard economic times," according to the study, which was completed by Northwest Iowa Planning and Development out of Spencer. "The 1980s affected every aspect of Buena Vista County's existence including housing, population, community and economic development."

Approximately 37.5 percent of the county's housing was built in 1939 or before, according to the study. The biggest housing booms after that were in the 1950s and again in the 1970s.

Since most housing has a median age of almost 50 years, the study points out the need for increasing maintenance on the aging housing stock. Also, approximately 100 housing units in the county are considered beyond repair and in need of replacement.

All of that shows a need for more housing in the county.

"It appears Buena Vista County presently has a very tight housing market caused by the low vacancy rates that are associated in part with the robust economy in the area," the reports says.

A tight market is good, Darren Bumgarner, the report's author, argues, but drives up the cost of housing. The study shows by 2010, 464 more housing units will be required.

Fueling that has been the steady in-flow of jobs in the area, especially centralized around Storm Lake's two meat-packing plants. The unemployment rate has been under 3 percent since 1988, with the highest spike back in 1982 when Hygrade closed, the report states. Unemployment that year was at 7.2 percent.

"However, it should be noted that the trend of lower unemployment rates is starting to falter and the unemployment rates are expected to increase over the next few months as employers lay off employees as a result of downward demand and earnings," the reports says.

To no one's surprise, the study shows a growth in the county's minority population, and a decrease in rural populations. The report shows historic population trends, from only 57 people in the first census in 1860 to 20,411 in the 2000 census.

A significant amount of growth was evident between 1860 and 1900, but since then it has only been "marginal to modest growth with periods (of) marginal population decline," the report says.

The high point for population came in 1960 with 21,189 people. "From years 1930 to 2000 the population of the county increased 1,744 persons or 9.3 percent," the report says.

From 1960 to 1990 the county lost about 5.8 percent of its population, but from 1990 to 2000 gained about 446 or 2.2 percent.

The study shows a projected population of 21,248 for 2020, based on trends from past census.

Increases in immigration and the Latino community accounted for much of the growth. In 2000 17,962 whites lived in the county, versus 19,490 in 1990, the study shows.

The Latino population increased from 160 to 2,560 in that same 10 years, and the Asian population increased from 350 to 887.

The study also shows the Hispanic or Latino and Asian populations are on average 11 to 16 years younger than whites. The median age for whites is about 36 years, while for Asians it is about 28, and 23 years for Hispanics and Latinos.

"A younger population can be positive in many respects, but in particular, a younger population will generally mean a community will experience a positive natural change of more births than deaths," the reports says.

The study points out traditional undercounting of minority populations in the county, which adversely affects the amount of state and federal money both the county and its cities receive.

"The average loss from federal and state sources to the city and county for every person not counted will mean revenue losses from these sources of several thousands of dollars for each person not counted by U.S. Census counts," the reports states.

Also included was a survey for county residents to complete. Survey responders were also given the opportunity to answer a question on how to improve the county. Answers varied from concerns about future annexation plans by the city of Storm Lake to immigration to the need for some sort of YMCA-type rec center.

The board of supervisors will meet on Tuesday, Nov. 13, at 9 a.m. to review the draft version of the report and to begin setting goals and objectives based on the report.

In the coming months the plan will be a tool for the county as it updates its comprehensive plan, as well as for developers in the Buena Vista County area.

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