Iowa inmates to build affordable rural housing, gain skills

NEWTON, Iowa (AP) — A central Iowa prison program aims to address a decline in affordable housing while teaching inmates construction skills they can use when they’re released.

Inmates at the Newton Correction Facility enrolled in the Iowa Prison Industries program are currently building an office and a classroom, The Des Moines Register reported. Eventually, they will build homes that can be moved to rural communities.

“It’s just a win-win for Iowa to build really good, quality homes for citizens and communities that need them, and at the same time give our guys skills to make them successful when they get out,” said Jeremy Larson, acting warden at the Newton Correctional Facilities.

Inmates who participate can earn apprenticeships in plumbing, electrical, carpentry and general labor. Chad Squires, the Newton site supervisor, estimates at least 60 inmates have already shown interest and more than half have officially applied.

Joshua Goemaat, 31, is serving a 10-year sentence for third-degree burglary and criminal mischief. He said he hopes that gaining the apprenticeship will help him find a full-time job after prison

“It’s just a great opportunity,” said Goemaat, as he painted a ceiling in what would become the program’s classroom.

Urban migration is in part to blame for the rural housing crisis. Nearly 150 Iowa towns have seen no new houses built since at least 2010, according to the 2017 U.S. Census. Some counties in southeast Iowa haven’t seen new homes built since 1940, according to Mike Norris, executive director of the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission and a member of the board that will oversee the inmate home-building program.

“The idea that you could have another producer of affordable single-family homes that can be placed on a lot on a small town is impactful,” said Bill Menner, executive director of the Iowa Rural Development Council.

The Iowa Prison Industries program is expected to build four homes in its first year for Marshalltown, where an EF-3 tornado hit last summer . For 2020, the program is planning to build 18 homes, and 36 the following year.

Homes cost about $125,000, and only families who earn less than $73,100 annually would qualify to purchase one. The homes are 1,200-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom, energy-efficient with an open floor plan.

“For income-qualified Iowans, I think that’s going to be a great way for them to enjoy the American dream,” said Dan Clark, director of Iowa Prison Industries.

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