The Decorah City Council has authorized an application for a First Time Homebuyers Down Payment Program grant.

On a 4-2 vote Monday night, the Council approved the recommendation from the city's Low and Moderate Income (LMI) Housing Commission. Council members Carolyn Corbin, Jody Niess, Jarrad Walter and Randy Schissel voted in favor of the grant application and Gary Rustad and Paul Wanless voted against it. (Council member Rachel Vagts was not at the meeting).

Before the vote, Lori Brockway, housing department head for Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, explained the grant program, which is offered by the Iowa Finance Authority.

It provides up to $24,999 in assistance to residents who are at or below 80 percent low to moderate income (LMI), which is approximately $18,440 in annual income for a family of four.

A local match is required, and Brockway suggested for a competitive grant application, the city pledge $1,500 per qualifying home buyer, up to 10 homes.

The price of the home purchased cannot exceed $134,900, Brockway said. Applicants are selected on a first-come, first-served basis. Those selected for the program must attend homebuyer education classes and must be able to obtain a bank loan, Brockway said.

Homes purchased must meet Iowa's minimum housing standards and city codes, she added.


Corbin, who made the motion to submit the grant application, said she has worked with Brockway on housing issues in other communities.

"In Decorah, it's a challenge to get LMI folks into a home - this is a way to do it and also stimulate our economy," she said.

Rustad said he thought it was a good idea, but had some reservations with authorizing a grant application at this time.

"I'd like to see this tabled until after the first of the year. We need an educational process for this Council," he said.

He noted there would be at least two new members on the Council after this week's city election.

"They must also understand what LMI is and also need to know other ways that LMI funds can be distributed - we did that recently with the Winneshiek Energy District," Rustad said.

Brockway said grant applications are due in January and that waiting to make a decision in January would delay offering the assistance for another year. She noted Winneshiek County Development Inc. Director Randy Uhl supports the city's participation in the program and that it's been "very successful" in other Northeast Iowa communities.

"It's important to find ways to support LMI home buyers and get them into housing," Corbin commented.

Housing Commission member Reg Laursen said the city only provides a local match if a viable homeowner qualifies.

Wanless said he was concerned the recommendation by the Commission was made during a meeting when there wasn't a quorum actually in attendance. Two members were at the meeting while a third participated by telephone.

Brockway said she did discuss the matter with the Commission at two different meetings.

"They were in full support at the first meeting," she said.

Most recently, she said she met with the Commission to provide additional information.