Alta mobile home problems a sign of market playing catch-up

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

If the Alta City Council were to condemn the dilapidated mobile home court the families occupying some 50 units would have no place to go. Alta is rented out. So is Storm Lake. And Early and Sioux Rapids. A decent place can cost up to $800 per month in rent. Not fantastic, but decent.

So God bless Craig Boyd, who recently took the job as the city code enforcement officer after retiring from a career in construction. He probably didn’t think he would be running into this mess. Boyd is trying to work through the problems with each of the landowners. If he is left alone to do his work, the mobile home court will get up to snuff with patience and assistance.

The homeowners don’t want to live in or around a dump. They were among the first to complain about their circumstance. They want to work with the city to get things livable.

Thanks to our news coverage, the owner is painfully aware of the situation and says he will do everything he can to clean things up.

Progress is being made.

It’s a growing pang.

Greater Storm Lake’s population has grown at least 50% in the past 25 years but housing inventory has not kept up. Until the last few years, the basic wage here was not high enough to support new housing stock. There wasn’t a lot of support for low-income housing development in Storm Lake for many years because North Seneca Apartments were run like a Chicago project in its early years. More recent tax-credit-supported housing is better managed and maintained, and North Seneca improved with new management after many complaints were lodged.

Storm Lake is making progress with rising wages. Just the Foutch Brothers alone plan to build more than 100 units in Storm Lake, both upscale and “market-rate” over the next couple years. Other developers who have dipped their feet in the water are likely to do more projects now that they understand the market better.

We might need 1,000 more housing units in and around The City Beautiful. It’s tough to do it one single-family dwelling at a time. Chet Brecher developed and sat on West Lake Estates for decades until it filled up. He spent a lot of money at it and claimed he never made money at it. I believe him.

The steam appears to have built up to a point where we are finally seeing some action.

Rooftops are sprouting. It has taken time. But Storm Lake has grown much more than many of us can appreciate sitting in the middle of it. All those people have to go somewhere, and it took awhile to fill everything up.

It’s full now.

These folks in the mobile home court want to be good neighbors. They want to move up and out of there more badly than most people can know. They need time and a helping hand, that’s all. They need to have the owner’s attention, which they do. This is an opportunity for Alta to improve its lot by responding constructively to its new neighbors.

In the meantime, it illustrates to us that the housing crunch is real. Many people who want to make this place home are trying hard. Craig Boyd is trying hard with them. They can work it out so everyone is a winner. We have to work it out. Rural communities not prepared for growth can only go one direction. This is not one of those rural communities.