$100,000 discount? Federal disaster grant creates affordable homeownership in small-town Iowa


Set in the Loess Hills, less than an hour’s drive from Omaha, southwest Iowa’s Woodbine has revamped its downtown historic district.

The town’s roughly 1,500 residents just opened a $15 million wellness and technology center and maintain an independent and growing rural school system.

Yet there’s a waiting list for newer apartments. Homes are nabbed almost as quickly as for-sale signs are posted. And the town wants more young families to help sustain its economic vitality.

“Consequently, we need houses,” said Deb Sprecker, executive director of Woodbine Main Street, the area’s economic arm.

Help is on the way in the form of an innovative homeownership program funded by disaster recovery dollars related to the 2019 floods. The funds will add 40 new-construction, “affordable” houses to the area.

Federal grant lowers buy-in

One design option for 40 affordable homes to be built in southwest Iowa. (Photo courtesy of Harvest Hills at Woodbine)

Led in part by NuStyle Development — which has completed numerous high-profile housing projects in Omaha — authorities say the effort offers a chance for 40 low-to-moderate-income families to pay $175,000 for a home valued at $275,000.

Additionally, up to $20,000 in down-payment assistance and closing costs is available to the buyers.

The discount is possible, said NuStyle’s Todd Heistand, through a nearly $19 million grant that reduces the buy-in for families who meet federal income criteria. In Harrison County, that means, for example, that a family of four can’t earn more than $70,250 to participate.

Funneled through the city’s community development block grant program, the grant also covers related street, infrastructure and design costs.

The Southwest Iowa Planning Council in Atlantic, which is helping to manage the process, is the first stop for participants. Similar programs are available in a handful of other Iowa communities. Interested buyers are encouraged to go through a pre-approval process to secure a mortgage.

We are growing, and families are looking for homes here in Woodbine, but our supply is tight, especially in a price range that families can afford.

– Rob Cogdill, Senior Woodbine

To be fair to candidates, Sprecker said, all qualified applicants are to be placed in a lottery. Winners will be able to choose their lot sites and home design from options provided.

The 40 homes are to be scattered in the 120-acre Harvest Hills subdivision currently under development by NuStyle on the west edge of Woodbine.

Goal is to mix in

When fully built out, that neighborhood is to have about 150 homes, including the affordable houses provided through the recovery dollars. So far, Heistand said, four market-rate houses have been built separately from the program. The market-rate homes will range in price from about $350,000 to $700,000, he said.

The idea is for the 40 affordable homes to mix into the overall neighborhood, said Heistand.

Woodbine Mayor Rob Cogdill said the new program is addressing a “housing crisis” in western Iowa.

“We are growing, and families are looking for homes here in Woodbine, but our supply is tight, especially in a price range that families can afford,” Cogdill said.

With workplace routines changing and many people now working from home, Sprecker said the attraction may be even stronger to the small town of Woodbine that her own family moved to from Kansas City some 18 years ago.

She thinks the program will draw lots of interest, including from outside the region.

“There’s just a lot of good things happening in Woodbine,” Sprecker said.

About this story

This story was originally published by the Nebraska Examiner, which is part of the States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: [email protected] Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.