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Rural Iowa communities face housing shortage

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Rural Iowa communities are struggling with a housing shortage despite many areas facing long-term population declines.

Developers are often wary of building in rural areas because of their declining population and significantly lower home values, the Des Moines Register reported .

More than half the state’s population now lives in 10 metropolitan counties, according to the U.S. Census. But the depopulation is countered with a rising housing demand, which experts said can be blamed on the market’s existing homes not matching the types of homes in demand.

Much of the state’s housing stock is old, with more than a quarter of the nearly 1.4 million housing units built in 1939 or earlier. Almost 150 Iowa towns haven’t had new housing built since at least 2010, according to U.S. Census figures.

Some rural communities now offer financing or incentives for new homes and renovations.

The Stanton Industrial Foundation is investing in new homes and rehabilitations in Stanton. The housing initiative is coupled with other investments to improve the area, such as a walking trail, daycare and multipurpose complex.

Forest City’s economic development group has used investments, a workforce housing loan and tax credits to finance a $4 million apartment complex with 24 units. City leaders worried about keeping businesses in the small city of about 4,000 people.

“If we want our businesses to expand here more, we need to increase our workforce,” said Beth Bilyeu, executive director of Forest City Economic Development. “But if we increase our workforce, we need good places for them to live and rent.”

Forest City leaders have also encouraged the construction of single-family homes through infrastructure incentives for new subdivisions.

Hobart Historic Preservation has created 19 loft apartments in a 160-year-old building in downtown Mount Pleasant.

Many communities are building new units on top of downtown storefronts because construction can be easier and cheaper, according to the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

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