Recovering from natural disasters can be especially difficult in low- and moderate-income communities because the event often exacerbates pre-existing problems. In Southwest Iowa, a devastating flood in 2019 not only left more than 100 homes uninhabitable, but also spotlighted the poor quality of the region’s housing stock that survived the storm unscathed. Like many rural communities across the country, residents there have long struggled with the cost of upkeep for aging homes and infrastructure. A disaster recovery strategy that merely replaced the homes too flooded to re-occupy would have been insufficient to meet the scale of the challenge that the community faced.
Enter the Southwest Iowa Planning Council (SWIPCO). As the floodwaters receded, SWIPCO staff took stock of the community’s needs and prepared a strategy that went beyond the acute need for replacement homes to address underlying challenges revealed by the storm. On behalf of the affected cities—including Glenwood, Hamburg, Logan, Malvern, Missouri Valley, Modale, Tabor, and Woodbine—SWIPCO applied for and was awarded grant funding of more than $90 million to address housing issues.
The funding, secured through the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s CDBG Disaster Recovery program, will address community needs by clearing 100 unsalvageable homes, constructing more than 250 new homes to replace them, and expanding water and sewer infrastructure. Residents displaced during the storm will be first in line for the new units, which are a mix of rental and owner-occupied, followed by other low- and moderate-income residents in the affected areas. The program represents both the largest grant ever executed by SWIPCO and the most significant investment in housing construction in the region in a generation.
By taking a comprehensive approach to disaster recovery rather than merely addressing immediate needs, this project will improve residents’ quality of life and the economic potential of the Southwest Iowa region for years to come. Community leaders have praised the program, crediting it with helping to avert further decline and restore confidence in the region’s economic vitality. “When we needed help with residential buyouts and new housing development after the 2019 flooding, SWIPCO was there for us every step of the way,” said Hamburg City Clerk Sheryl Owen. “It’s been a long few years but seeing the money flowing toward these projects sure helps.”
These efforts complement the $7.9M in disaster construction funds allocated from the Denver EDA Regional Office to rebuild the levy that devastated the city of Hamburg during the 2019 flood. The levee now protects the entire town, including both residential and industrial areas, positioning the community for a more secure and prosperous future.
This case study was written by Dion Thompson-Davoli, NADO RF Research Fellow
Joe McKinney serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). Headquartered in Washington DC, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 500+ regional planning and development organizations.
Joe has thirty-one years of experience having served in city, county, regional, national association, and government management since 1991. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a candidate for a master’s degree in Public Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.
McKinney has provided congressional testimony on numerous occasions regarding the importance of regional development organizations in helping shape the nation’s economic growth. He is nationally recognized for promoting innovative solutions in areas such as planning and economic development, workforce development, transportation and transit, and aging services.