Group targets infill, eyesores

Register Editor

Register/Susan Lynn
Homes for Iola, Inc., board members include from left, Gary McIntosh, John McRae, John Brocker, Jeff Johnson, David Toland, Ken Gilpin, Georgia Abbott, Nic Lohman, Karen Gilpin, Jim Gilpin and Beverly Franklin.

Like a smile with missing teeth, Iola’s streets are dotted with empty lots.
Or worse, rotted out houses.
Enter Homes for Iola, Inc., whose goal is to fill in the holes or fix up shopworn homes.
Friday afternoon board members broke ground for construction of a home at 216 S. Colborn, which had long been the site of a vacant and dilapidated house.
It’s the first of what is hoped to be five new homes in Iola’s city limits. The group also hopes to renovate two homes within the year’s time.
As president of Homes for Iola, Inc., Ken Gilpin stresses that the group’s efforts will not be in competition of area developers.
“We’re building where developers aren’t interested,” Gilpin said of the city’s inner core.
A challenge to the Homes board is finding lots of adequate size, Gilpin said.
“The shotgun houses built for smelter workers early in the 20th century were typically on 50- by 75-foot lots. They were long and narrow,” he said.
Those houses today that are in poor condition are not targets for redevelopment because their plots of land are prohibitively small for developers to work within easement restrictions that give space between neighbors, sidewalks and streets.
That forces any developer to either look for two adjoining lots on which to build or look to the outskirts of town to develop.
The issue needs to be addressed by city leaders, Gilpin said. Perhaps easement restrictions can be relaxed so that potential developers can make use of the smaller size lot, he suggested.
Building in town is desireable because of the savings in using existing infrastructure such as utility lines, streets and gutters.
The South Colborn home is on 1.5 lots, working from a floor plan of 1,223 square feet with three bedrooms and two baths. It will be built on a slab of concrete, eliminating a basement. Built at a cost of $80 per square feet, the house is projected to sell for $105,000, including a 6 percent commission for a real estate agent.

HOMES FOR IOLA, Inc., can make this all happen with seed money of about $25,000 contributed by local citizens who invested from $500 to $1,000 apiece to the effort. There will be no dividends paid to investors.
It’s a break-even business, Gilpin said, with preference given to local contractors, builders and suppliers. Local businesses will be favored when bids are let, Gilpin said, even if their prices are a little higher than an outside competitor may offer.
Costs can be kept to a minimum because Homes for Iola will not figure a profit into the price of the house.
Iola’s three local banks — Community National, Emprise and Citizens — have agreed to share equally in the financing of the projects that Homes for Iola, Inc., brings their way by pricing interest “favorably,” Gilpin said.
As bankers, “We’re not trying to make money on these projects. Our goal is to see Iola grow,” he said.
For a community where the median price of a home is a tad over $50,000, a new home of twice that much may seem out of reach for many.
“Let’s do the math,” Gilpin suggested.
To swing a $100,000 mortgage, a family needs to make in the neighborhood of $46,000 a year. For a two-employee household, that could mean wages of $12 and $10 an hour.
From this income, about $1,300 a month can go toward scheduled payments for a 30-year loan on a home.
Mortgage lending guidelines limit a family’s scheduled payments to approximately 36 percent of their income. Scheduled payments include those due for a house, credit cards, alimony, child support and for automobiles.
For the family making $46,000 a year, no more than $16,473 a year can go toward such payments to qualify for a loan.
“Oftentimes that means people have to choose between having two car payments, or choosing home ownership,” Gilpin said. “It’s all a matter of priorities.”

HOMES FOR IOLA, Inc., was formed in 2008 as an effort to combat Iola’s deteriorating residential core. Homes left to decay bring down the market value of a neighborhood. The average value of a house in Iola last year decreased by 1.3 percent, according to Sperling’s Best Places, a Web site that gives demographic snapshots of U.S. communities.
Reversing that downward trend is a goal of the Homes group by either building new homes or renovating older homes to raise the value of surrounding neighborhoods.
“A past housing study commissioned by the Iola City Commission suggests we should replace approximately 20 homes per year just to maintain our housing stock,” Gilpin said. “We expect Homes for Iola, Inc., to contribute to that effort.”