Elkader Uses Housing Incentives to Grow and Thrive

March 5, 2019

Since 1836, when Elisha Boardmann and Horace Bronson settled on the banks of the Turkey River, Elkader has been a vibrant hub for commerce in Northeast Iowa. Elkader reached its peak population of 1,688 in 1980 but it has been steadily declining over the past 40 due to urbanization and a changing agriculture economy.  As a result, enrollment has also declined at Central Community Schools. The challenge is how to keep the small, rural community thriving.

Jennifer Cowsert, Elkader City Administrator,  connected with communities, such as Independence and Nashua, to jump-start ideas on how to sustain, and ideally grow, Elkader’s population.  The City identified housing incentives as one way to attract new residents and improve the inventory of quality homes. The Elkader Housing Incentives Program was born soon after, the result of a joint effort between the City of Elkader, Elkader Development Corporation, and Alpine Communications.

Pictured are Amanda Hostetler, Deputy City Clerk and Jennifer Cowsert, City Administrator with a copy of the easy-to-complete Housing Incentives Application which can be obtained at City Hall.

Elkader launched the housing incentives program in 2017 and deems it a success.  Since then, 21 residents have either built new homes, purchased a home, or renovated their current single-family home thus improving Elkader’s housing inventory. Jennifer Cowsert noted that the majority of the incentives have gone to residents who have purchased a home in Elkader.  “Some people have been moving in from the country. Others have moved here for a job and we’ve had people move to Elkader from other states including Colorado.”  New residents are attracted to Elkader for not only incentives, but also the quality of life the town provides.

Jennifer elaborated, “Elkader has the kind of environment to either retire or raise children in. People wouldn’t need to leave Elkader because we have most everything here – the post office, library, pharmacy, grocery store, restaurants, and healthcare facilities to name a few. For a retiree, a family, a young professional, or really anyone, it’s one-stop shopping in our town.”

Expanding on the access to public services, commerce, education, and healthcare; recreational activities are plentiful in Elkader, too. “We have parks, the county has beautiful parks, and there are national and state parks nearby. We hope to expand on Elkader’s current trail system in the future,” explained Cowsert. “I think our residents appreciate the quality of life.  We are a friendly small town that’s safe, so kids can walk to school without worry. We have a variety of activities offered at the school and in the community.”

One amenity the City of Elkader can boast is Alpine Communications’ 100% fiber-optic network within the city limits. Access to quality broadband places Elkader at a competitive advantage among other small Midwest towns. Cowsert sees the access to Alpine’s Fusion Network benefiting residents. “It’s huge. I see other economic development leaders in the Midwest trying to get fiber in their communities.  The lack of broadband is a problem for many.  I’m grateful we don’t have to worry about it because our telephone company invested in fiber over ten years ago.”

Cowsert plans to target telecommuters and home-based businesses as an “untapped market” for the housing incentives, too.

Smart Rural Community

Elkader has earned the certification and status as a Smart Rural Community by NTCA.

Elkader Economic Development’s Executive Director Kate Lower believes access to affordable housing, quality of life, outdoor recreation, culture, and with high-tech services is attractive to young professionals. Katie said, “We need to attract young people to our community and one way is by bringing in the arts.” Elkader hosts various arts and cultural events throughout the year, which draws thousands of visitors and adds to the local flavor.

When it comes to housing, economic development leaders are thinking ahead about how to attract even more newcomers. Kate mentioned, “We need to broaden our scope and think about the affordable housing for everyone.” The vibrant downtown district offers upper-story housing which is underutilized, in Lower’s opinion, and is especially attractive to younger people who want to rent. “A lot of the apartments need to be fixed up and are just sitting empty. The historical uniqueness (of upper-story living) draws young people in,” explained Kate.

Pictured are Kate Lower and Jennifer Cowsert at City Hall which is housed in the basement of the historical Elkader Opera House at 207 Main Street.

The City of Elkader is counting on community members to help get the word out about housing incentives. Cowsert urges residents to talk about it to people they know. “The best way to help is by word-of-mouth. If everyone could be an ambassador to people they know or family members that might come back to Elkader and share why they love living here.”  Kate added, “Personal testimonials are really meaningful because people connect with people. Hearing how it helped a person helps you relate to one another.”

Are you looking to build a home, buy a house, or renovate your current home? The City of Elkader encourages you to visit www.elkader-iowa.com to download the Elkader Housing Incentives application or visit their office in the basement of the historic Elkader Opera House on Main Street.

We believe connected communities become thriving communities. Join in the movement and share why you love living in Elkader and inspire others to make Northeast Iowa home.

All incentives include:

  • Free recycling bin.
  • One year family pool pass.

New Home Construction 

  • Three years free base rate for city water service (non-transferable) (valued at $222/year; $666 over the three years) and three years free base rate for city sewer service (non-transferable) (valued at $522/year; $1,566 over the three years).
  • Free utility connection fee (valued at $50).
  • Tax rebate for three years. (50% tax of the City portion of taxes, minus the debt service levy) (rebate is transferable if sold)
  • Waiver of building permit fee.
  • Alpine Communications: free Fusion fiber-optic network construction (limited to the first 300 feet of fiber-optic construction to the new home.); free Fusion fiber-optic network installation for telephone, Internet, FusionTV and home monitoring services from Alpine Communications and move-in incentive pricing. (Some restrictions apply.)

Home Purchase

  • One year free base rate for city water service (non-transferable) (valued at $222/year) and one year free base rate for city sewer service (non-transferable) (valued at $522/year).
  • Free utility connection fee (valued at $50).
  • One year 50% tax rebate on the City portion of taxes (minus the debt service levy) (nontransferable)
  • Alpine Communications: free Fusion fiber-optic network Installation for telephone, internet, FusionTV and home monitoring services from Alpine Communications and move-in incentive pricing (some restrictions apply.)

Home Renovation

  • One year free base rate for city water service (non-transferable) (valued at $222/year)
  • One year free base rate for city sewer service (non-transferable) (valued at $522/year)
  • One year tax rebate starting the first year new taxes are effective. (50% tax of the City portion of taxes, minus the debt service levy) (Rebate is not transferable if sold)

Who is eligible:

  • Property must be located within Elkader city limits.
  • Property must be new construction.
  • Property must be owner-occupied, primary residence at the time of construction.
  • Property owner must not have received assistance from a third party, such as First Time Homebuyer program.
  • Property owners are not eligible for this benefit more than once in a lifetime.
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