The city of Decorah is pursuing an urban revitalization plan to help encourage residential construction.
At its meeting last week, the Decorah City Council unanimously approved setting a public hearing on a proposed urban revitalization plan that includes tax abatement for residential and commercial residential (apartments) property. The hearing is 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2.
“It’s an effort for you to move toward improving the housing stock in our community,” City Manager Chad Bird told the Council.
The plan would provide a five-year, 100-percent property tax abatement for new residential construction and remodeling anywhere within city limits up to $500,000. The program would be available for a three-year period. After the hearing, Bird said there is a 30-day waiting period before the Council can take action on the plan.
“We’re proceeding as quickly as the code section allows to make the earliest effective date possible,” Bird told the Council.

Need studied
Local economic groups have been looking at housing needs for more than a year and last fall decided professional assistance was needed. RDG Planning and Design of Omaha was contracted to do a Community Housing Assessment Team (CHAT) study.
RDG did extensive background work and conducted site visits in November. RDG’s Housing Specialist Marty Shukert presented the firm’s findings in January.
Three major issues were identified:
• The need for 300 new housing units in Winneshiek County over the next 10 years, with 210 of those in Decorah alone
• If affordable housing isn’t available, other aspects of community life will be affected
• Public participation is essential to providing additional housing.
“A program like this has little risk and we’re hopeful it really does invigorate the housing market in our community,” Bird told Decorah Newspapers.
Bird formerly worked for the city of Adel that implemented a similar program about four years ago. The first year of the program, 25 new homes were built and approximately 90 new homes have been built since the program began, he said.
“It allows property owners to build new or improve existing homes up to an amount set and abate those taxes for a specific amount of time to help them with their development … nobody is forced to do it,” Council member Paul Wanless commented during last week’s meeting.
The resolution setting the public hearing acknowledges conditions exist in the city to warrant tax abatement. It states “The presence of a substantial number of deteriorated or deteriorating structures, deterioration of site or other improvements, and a combination of these and other factors, substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the city, constitutes an economic and social liability and is a menace to the public welfare in its present condition.”
It continues: “The proposed revitalization area (Decorah city limits) comprises an area in which there is a predominance of buildings and improvements which, by reason of age, history, architecture and significance, should be preserved and/or restored to productive use.”

Requirements
For an existing home to be eligible for tax abatement, the homeowner must make an improvement greater than 10 to 15 percent of the value of the home. The Council has not yet determined the exact percentage. For a $100,000 home, the improvement would have to increase the assessed value of the home to $110,000 if the requirement were 10 percent.
If the Council approves the plan, it would have the opportunity annually to modify the program, extend it or rescind it, Bird said.
Depending on how quickly the Council moves on the matter, the program could be available as early as mid October, Bird said.