Story County might need another 3,000 homes by 2040, but building costs could make that difficult
Story County wants more feedback on housing availability after hearing the findings of a housing study last month that confirmed a need for more affordable housing in the area.
One of the findings that came from the study was the county needs another 2,958 homes by 2040, which will be a large undertaking, Story County Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Latifah Faisal said.
Though she was surprised by the estimate, Faisal said most of the survey reflected the issues the county was aware of, which she'd seen first-hand in her time at the county attorney’s office.
“I think we knew a lot of what was in the report already, but it’s good to have the forecasting,” Faisal said. “It gives some clarity for where we’re going to need to ensure that we have adequate housing throughout the county.”
With 672 total respondents, Faisal said the county hopes to hear more feedback, particularly from residents of the county outside Ames. RDG Planning & Design, the consultant hired to conduct the survey, made other Story County cities a priority, but still heard responses from Ames residents.
“It’s great to do these studies and surveys, but I think it’s also really important to know what is important to people who are living in the communities,” Faisal said.
With the available feedback, researchers found more than 60% of students in the county said they had adequate housing, with a similar response from empty nesters and young couples without children. Those who responded "yes" to that question dropped below 50% for single professionals, elderly singles, couples and families with children.
Just above 30% of multi-generational families and just below 30% of seasonal workers agreed that their household needs are being adequately met.
When asked for the perceived availability of housing options, 80% of respondents said there was an undersupply of units available for less than $500, and 50% said there's an oversupply of housing that runs between $1,500 and $1,999 per month. Just over 60% of respondents said there's an undersupply of housing with rents of $500-$999.
Though responses show a need for more affordable housing, other estimates show the county fairs well when compared to others that house large universities.
The median home value in Story County, including Ames, is $180,400, and the median rent is $782. Both values are below the medians in Johnson County, Iowa, and Riley County, Kansas, home to Manhattan, Kansas, and Kansas State University. However, lower median rents are found in college counties Monroe County, Indiana and Lancaster County, Nebraska.
Great growth before the Great Recession
The last time a housing study was conducted in Story County was in 1998, when many baby boomers were still raising families and Generation X was looking to buy their first homes, RDG Planning & Design Amy Haase said at the January meeting.
“There was a lot of focus on 'How do we help people get into housing',” Haase said. “Since then, we’ve seen great growth, but we’ve also seen the great recession.”
The recession brought stagnated wages, increased building costs and many leaving the building industry, Haase said. Seventy-six single-family homes were built outside of Ames in 2010, compared to the 182 single-family homes, 38 duplexes and 18 multi-family units built in 2017.
Though building had bounced back by 2017, numbers dipped in 2018 and 2019, the study showed. This inconsistency could add to the difficulty of meeting the housing needs estimated for 2040.
Researchers calculated housing needs using population growth estimates, projected vacancies, unit needs and unit losses. Huxley, the county’s fasted-growing city, will need over 1,000 more units alone by 2040. Nevada, which has seen little population growth since 1990, according to the study, will need another 514 units.
Faisal said that, due to the continuing issue of increased building costs, filling the housing needs with new builds may not be feasible.
“The areas that we need to be focusing on is (in) rehabbing existing housing stock,” Faisal said. “I’m really concerned about how expensive it is just to build a modest home ... Building costs are through the roof.”
Online: For more information on the county's housing study, visit StoryCountyIowa.gov/HousingStudy.
By mail: Feedback can be filled out online or mailed to the Story County Board of Supervisors at 900 6th St. in Nevada.