New housing initiative takes shape

Thrive Allen County wants to focus on housing, economic development and building revitalization. A steering committee was formed to collect information and identify priorities.

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April 6, 2021 - 9:16 AM

Developing plans for the old Waugh-Yokum & Friskel Funeral Home building is one goal of a new local housing and economic development initiative. Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

A new housing initiative is taking shape locally.

To learn more, this Register reporter sat down with Jonathon Goering, economic development director at Thrive Allen County.

He explained how “Thrive was selected to participate in an initiative called the Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge,” which is funded by the USDA.

Organizations in Atchison and Sheffield, Iowa, were also selected.

The USDA has already connected Thrive and local stakeholders with Atlas Community Studios, a connector agency, as well as McClure Engineering, who will help usher the project forward.

“[The USDA is] looking at connecting the right people to the right resources, in this instance, to help rural communities,” Goering said.

Thrive’s partnership with the USDA, Atlas and McClure will focus on three main areas moving forward: housing, economic development and building revitalization.

To assist in these efforts, a steering committee has been formed as well, with participation from 15 local business and community leaders in wide-ranging professions.

At this point, the initiative is in the data-collection and analysis phase, along with getting public feedback.

A housing survey is available online for residents to participate in and there are upcoming public “visioning” sessions planned as well.

Find the survey here.

The next visioning session is scheduled for the morning of April 28 online, and the housing survey will be available until April 18.

Once enough useful information has been collected, consultants will then crunch the data to “identify what’s possible,” Goering said.

But first a number of key questions need answered, for instance: “What type of housing is most needed? What price ranges do we need to build in?”

“I think it’s safe to say it’s been a number of years for any type of housing project taking place in Allen County,” noted Goering. “So this data will be really helpful in determining our greatest needs.”

“I think what we find will support a lot of our assumptions,” he added, “but we might be surprised.”

When asked what he thought a successful initiative might look like, Goering suggested there’s nothing wrong with starting out small.

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