WL looking for landlords

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, August 20, 2014
These last few years have seen a boom in West Liberty activities; from building renovations to new businesses, the community is moving forward, but there seems to be a problem.

There's no place to stay.

Specifically, it's difficult to find apartments for rent. After consulting the newspaper and asking around, many would be inhabitants turn to the Chamber of Commerce and to WL Economic Area Development (WeLead) for help.

However, these organizations are having just as much trouble finding rentable properties that are affordable and vacant.

"We get two to three calls for apartments a week," said WeLead Director Shannon McNaul, "It's incredibly difficult to find something, we have a list of landlords and everybody is full."

Since school started on Aug. 20 there's been an even higher influx of tenants than usual this last month. Most residents begin by renting before buying a permanent home in town; it’s how life operates in the 21st century.

But if there's no place to start, West Liberty could be missing out on a viable resource.

"If we want to grow the community we have to start with the people," adds McNaul. "We have the perfect community, we're centrally located and we have a great school system, we are what the future of Iowa looks like."

According to the latest census West Liberty's current population is 3,736, a statistic that will continue to grow in the coming years.

Out of that number 1,505 residents are between the ages of 25-54. Basically, 40 percent of the community's population is in the common age range to rent and buy property.

Only 21 percent of the community's population is 55 years of age or older while 39 percent is below the age of 24.

This is all according to a housing needs assessment review completed on Dec. 2, 2013, by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It took data from the 2010 census of Iowa.

That young and middle age range is growing in West Liberty and it’s producing children. For the community to grow it needs more apartments that are more affordable.

The same assessment finds that in West Liberty 55 percent of renters are overburdened, meaning more than 30 percent of their income goes towards housing expenses.

Since the average wage in Muscatine County is $28,319.20, that means renters hand over $8,495.76 a year.

This may not seem like a lot, but in Muscatine 46.4 percent of renters are burdened, while in nearby Wilton that number is 36.4 percent. In West Branch only 15.9 percent of renters are burdened.

To sum it up many in the perfect age range for renting are looking at West Liberty, but lack of vacancies and high prices may be driving them to other towns.

However, many property owners are attempting to fill the gap by buying and renovating developments. One such West Liberty developer is Brad Akers, the man known for bringing Maid-Rite to town.

He owns several rentable properties and town houses; however, he has no vacancies. He's working on building a ranch condominium with units he wants to sell, but he's running into a problem.

"Currently there's a lot of ground not zoned correctly for multiple units, it's hard to find R3 ground," he said. "But we need more apartments for sure."

West Liberty, like any other municipality, is zoned into several sections by its government that determine what kind of business or housing can be put in certain areas. Zones designated R3 can be used for multiple residential rental properties.

There's zoning for agricultural, single family, residential, commercial, retail and industrial needs. Every single part of West Liberty is zoned in a certain way. In order to bring in more residents many of those may need to be changed to R3, which allows for multiple renters.

Norm Nicol is another property owner in West Liberty. He's the owner of Probe-a-Load Inc., a manufacturer of the all-electric grain probe. He recently bought two more houses in West Liberty.

As a businessman he's interested in improving the community, which begins with improving property values, which begins with reconstruction. He's not sure what he'll do with the houses he's bought yet, but he knows that improving them now helps everyone in the long run.

"If I can fix up a house, that's going to help the community," he says. "This community right now, because of a handful of people, is definitely on a betterment path."

There has been a boost in property improvement, Bruce and Lisa Browning are currently renovating a home on the intersection of Third and Columbus, which brings in a lot of eyes.

Further downtown Jason and Lisa Wertzbaugher are improving the 150-year-old Globe Loan building. Jerry Melick's "Century Grille" building will soon be converted to the restaurant "The Copper Penny Bistrot," while across the street construction can be seen on several other buildings.

There's an obvious push to improve the downton’s beauty and functionality by the community, despite some of the vacant store lots.

"People want to move here," said McNaul. “We just have to help them, and that involves findings apartments that are clean and affordable,” she added. She said that from March 26 to June 26 around 39 new people registered their households.

The call is out there, West Liberty. There may be no better time to become a landlord.
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