Johnson, Linn counties among Iowa's top gainers in housing, Census reports

Iowa ranks 25th in percent change from 2010 to 2012

The American housing market is bouncing back after a historic collapse in 2007, and some communities in Iowa are seeing the evidence, according to new U.S. Census Bureau numbers.

Dallas County’s 4.12 percent increase in housing units from 2010 to 2012 ranked it first in the state and 22nd in the nation, according to Census Bureau data made public Thursday. Communities in Eastern Iowa also saw notable increases during that period.

Dubuque County ranked second in the state with a 2.09 percent increase, Johnson County ranked third with a 2.03 percent gain, and Linn County ranked eighth with a 1.13 percent increase.

“I’ve seen an uptick in the projects that I’m running, and it’s a happy feeling,” said Gerald Hingtgen, president of H & H Builders in North Liberty.

The Census Bureau counts annual housing units and estimates percent change at the national, state and county level by adding the 2010 Census count of housing units, the estimated new residential construction and the estimated new mobile homes. It then subtracts the estimated housing units lost to compute the annually July 1 housing unit estimates.

Nationally, Iowa ranked 25th in percent change from 2010 to 2012 with a .7 percent increase. The state with the biggest percent increase in housing units during that time was North Dakota, followed by Texas and Utah.

The states with the weakest showing from 2010 to 2012 were Rhode Island and Michigan, which both saw a .2 percent decrease in housing unit counts.

Iowa counted 9,323 more housing units in 2012 than in 2010, but much of that growth occurred around the state's urban centers. In fact, a majority of Iowa counties -- 57 of 99 -- saw a decrease in housing units over that two-year period.

“We are lucky – we have the University of Iowa here that is a large and stable employer,” said Tom Bockenstedt, owner of B & H Builders in Iowa City. “We are fortunate to be experiencing more demand than other parts of the state.”

Recent Census reports rank parts of Eastern Iowa -- including Iowa City, North Liberty, Coralville and Tiffin -- among the fastest growing in Iowa, and Bockenstedt said he’s seeing that in both the custom home market and the demand for new neighborhood development projects.

“We are busy,” he said. “But we have a couple new employees, so we have increased our capacity to do more work.”

B & H is behind one development project on the east side of Iowa City in Wellington Park, and he credits low interest rates – in part – for the rise in demand.

“The economy went through some changes from 2008 and on,” he said. “But I think this is a new economy, and people are comfortable with it now.”

Randy Hahn, vice president of North Liberty-based H&H Builders, said this year has been his company’s busiest since 2007, and he credits a lot of that to the fast growing communities in this part of the state.

“We are seeing a lot of new business in North Liberty, Solon and (rural) Johnson County,” he said. “I would imagine it has to do with the stable economy in our area.”

He also said Iowa also wasn’t as affected as some states when the housing bubble burst, and he thinks development is going to continue booming here – with new MidAmerican wind energy jobs expected in the next few years.

“We have kept up with the demand fine, although we are keeping quite a few people busy as far as subcontractors and suppliers go,” Hahn said. “But we can still build more homes.”

One hurdle builders are running into locally is a lack of lots available for new construction. Developers halted infrastructure work on new lots when the housing market dropped, and Hahn said they now are trying to catch up with the demand.

“Lots have gotten more in demand and less available,” he said. “We are still available to find lots to build on, but the choices are less than they used to be.”


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