Clarion Housing: Opening Up the Larger Picture

One of the few systematic academic studies on rural housing is “Growth and Locational Impact for Housing in Small Communities” by Ziebarth, Prochaska-Cue, and Shrewsbury (1997). The authors surveyed 21 rural communities of populations between 1,000 and 2,500, slightly smaller than Clarion’s population of 2,850 from the 2010 census. The results, however, suggest Clarion’s concerns are common and have precedent. “Focus group discussions indicated that housing availability was a common concern across all 21 communities, regardless of the community’s population change or location,” the article says on page 118.

The paper continued: “Focus group participants also identified the quality of their local housing stock as an issue. Newcomers in some communities noted that they had to lower their expectations for housing order to find a place to live; moreover, there was a general concern that some local residents lived in substandard housing and that landlords took advantage of the limited housing available to lease poor quality units and avoid maintaining property.”

On April 5, 22 lots at White Fox Landing will go up for auction, and the apparent low bid for infrastructure development recently came in $477,000 lower than the initial $3 million cost estimate. As discussed in the Monitor’s March 6 issue, the Landing’s non-profit developer i2i hopes the space to build new homes will encourage more people to relocate to Clarion – especially employees in expanding area businesses – helping to expand Clarion’s income tax base, number of school students, and business done locally.

Why would people work here, but live elsewhere? And what considerations affect those who would move here?  In the coming weeks, as part of ongoing community discussions, the Monitor will discuss why people choose to live and/or work in Clarion, and the issues involved with building, buying, and renting local homes.

“In the larger picture, Wright County is probably no different from any other county in northern Iowa,” said Brad Hicks, Wright County Economic Development Director.

At the March 17 Wright County Supervisors’ meeting, Hicks discussed a housing survey proposed by the Mid-Iowa Area Growth Partnership (MIGP), which would be conducted through the Mid-Iowa Development Association (MIDAS). Nine area counties are members of the MIGP economic development group, of which six belong to the MIDAS Council of Governance.

“All of us have similar problems,” Hicks said. “We have a rural workforce without a lot of available labor, and we have an older housing stock without a lot of new development. So for the past eight months, we’ve had committees working on finding solutions to those situations that can be used in all our counties.”

The proposed studies would provide hard data via a needs assessment – which would focus on demographics and the hard numbers of what a community like Clarion can support – and a marketing survey, which would focus on the ‘wants’ of potential area residents. Right now, Hicks said, most of what is believed about these topics by businesses, developers, and politicians is drawn from realtors’ anecdotes and internal surveys conducted by substantially-sized employers in Clarion and Belmond.

A recent search of Town & Country Realty’s website showed 21 active listings in Clarion and Lake Cornelia, priced from $28,000 to $450,000, 13 of which were priced under $70,000. There is one active listing each for Goldfield and Dows. Ryerson Auction Realty showed 5 listings in Clarion and 3 in Goldfield, including one 5-bedroom home on foreclosure available at $10,500.

According to Carol Haupt, owner of Town and Country and President of i2i, her listings are half the number she saw for Clarion a decade ago. “People moving into town tend to be used to newer inventory,” Haupt said of potential new Clarion residents, identifying such home buyers as members of a professional class, usually in their early 30s at the youngest. Haupt suggested that desirable newer home styles include open floor plans, en-suite master bathrooms, walk-in closets, and generally newer kitchens. She also noted that the White Fox Landing development would hopefully open some of the town’s mid-range homes for sale.

Clarion has 1015 homes listed with the Wright County Assessor’s office. 290 were built before 1900, 261 from 1901 to 1940, and 464 since 1940 – or, divided another way, around half of Clarion’s housing is from before the 1940s and half after. 169 homes have been built since 1970, 30 of which have been built since 2000.

 “We’re as data-rich now on residential properties as we’re ever going to be,” said Hicks, referring to a 2013 housing re-appraisal project for property tax purposes that calculated the mean average value of Clarion’s homes as $71,900.

Of the 79 residential real estate transactions at market value in Clarion in 2012 and 2013, the median price was $195,000. There were also 109 transactions not at market values, including trades, inheritances, and foreclosures.  These numbers suggest that there are Clarion home buyers who are seeking homes beyond the value of the general housing stock.

Home availability is one part of a complicated picture, and the reasons people choose to move aren’t all economical: spousal employment and community ties to friends, schools, churches, affect where people desire to move or stay. These concerns – and issues related to building homes and renting – will be discussed in the Monitor’s pages in coming weeks. 

Read the complete story in the Monitor’s March 20 issue, and let us know what you think about Wright County homes via email, phone, letters, or carrier pigeon!