Get building

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Apartments stacked atop one another never have been our picture of Shangri La imposed on Storm Lake. It has become regrettably apparent over time that The City Beautiful has grown to the point where we must have more multi-family dwellings capitalized by low-income tax credits to house our workforce. Neighbors are understandably anxious about any such proposal. We have been skeptical since the North Seneca Apartments were built using the tax credits. Our real beef is that we are subsidizing relatively low wages, we are distorting capital flows and free markets, and that higher wages build more quality housing and not government subsidies.

Many people prefer apartments over single-family houses. Many can’t swing anything but an apartment because of life skills or income restraints or transience. Yet everyone needs a place to live. Manufacturing wages in Iowa are half what they were 35 years ago even though blue-collar jobs have increased in Storm Lake. Wages have not kept pace to create actual housing demand (need + ability to pay = demand). Storm Lake builds a paltry nine homes a year, and not that many more go up in Lakeside or the unincorporated areas nearby. Lots wait on residents who can make a down payment.

Studies and pedestrian observation tell us that the city is hundreds, if not thousands, of units short to meet workforce housing needs. The only way to make it cash flow is tax credits in our market.

We have resigned ourselves to that.

And, we know that apartments will end up in the north and east side of town were space is available. That’s where MBL Development of Kansas City proposes to build 60 apartments using tax credits, if awarded by the Iowa Finance Authority for the federal government. We hope the credits are approved. And, we hope that neighbors can get comfortable with the idea of apartments coming in nearby. The Planning and Zoning Commission has been asked to rezone the property on seven acres along East Milwaukee and Hickory streets. Other apartments are in the general vicinity. They are not necessarily out of place there at the edge of town. Most of us live near multi-family housing, some of which is more desirable than others. There is no reason to suspect that MBL will not be a good landlord. Management is fully aware of the sensitivities to low-income housing and must pledge to own it for 30 years. It deserves to be approved. Storm Lake needs it.

Neighbors also have been concerned about potential duplexes at Emerald Park developed by Mag-Shu along Hwy. 110. This project is not financed by tax credits but by the developer’s instincts that duplexes would sell, especially considering the obvious need for more senior-style housing as Boomers gray out. City Manager Kari Navratil has come up with a zoning covenant that can allow duplexes to be built but not an apartment building. This should satisfy the neighbors’ concerns, although the area would appear to be a perfectly acceptable site for apartments near the schools and adjacent to a highway. If duplexes can win the day, then so be it.

The city council has repeatedly identified more housing as its priority. Here are two proposals that address the priority in responsible ways by accountable developers. Let’s get on with building homes for new neighbors.

Scientists baffled by inertia

Former Des Moines Mayor Preston Daniels, on behalf of the Iowa Partnership for Clean Water funded by Farm Bureau, claimed in The Des Moines Register recently that nitrate levels in the Raccoon River have not risen in the past few decades. We rebutted his claim with data from the Des Moines Water Works showing that levels have doubled since 1980. This week we stumbled across research published in July by the National Academy of Sciences that buttresses our point that nitrate levels have increased during that period. The multi-institutional study led by the University of Michigan also found that it will take a 59% reduction in nitrate loads on the Mississippi River to reduce the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico to the size of Delaware. It is now the size of New Jersey.

The researchers state that “river nitrate concentrations have not declined since the 1980s, and the five-year running average nitrate load to the Gulf is not significantly different from the 1980-1996 baseline after US Farm Bill conservation programs have spent more than $28 billion in the 20 Mississippi Basin states since 1985.”

The scientists are baffled by the lack of progress.

“However, it matters little whether the load reduction target is 30%, 45% or 59% if insufficient resources are in place to make even modest reductions,” the researchers conclude. “Most of these studies emphasize the value of targeting funding to locations and practices that make the most difference. It is time to ask what is preventing more extensive implementation of some or all of these strategies.”

Most of the phosphorous and nitrate loads to the river, and the Gulf, are from corn and soybean fields in Iowa and Illinios, primarily, with other Midwestern states contributing. All conservation measures are voluntary, conservation funds are dropping and will drop even more given the mood in Congress. At the same time, the ag-chemical complex continues to suggest that our problems are cleaning up, when in fact they are not.