BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
WEST POINT – It was moving day of sorts in West Point Thursday morning.
Crews from Ferneau & Sons House Moving and Raising, Inc out of Marshalltown, brought in the sixth home built by a program called Homes for Iowa, and pulled it onto a foundation built by Michael Mohrfeld’s Green Oak Development.
Mike Norris, the executive director at Southeast Iowa Regional Planning, is the vice president of Homes for Iowa and has been part of the group’s efforts since it’s founding almost six years ago. Barb Smidt of Two Rivers Bank & Trust in Keokuk is also a board member.
Norris was on site as the crews pulled the home onto the foundation.
“We’ve been working on this Homes for Iowa for five and a half to six years now,” Norris said. “We started the first phase of building laying down some boards in May of 2019 and we moved our first house in February. In 2020 we’re hoping to move eight house and in 2021 we’re going to try and ratchet that up to 24.”
The homes are built at a medium security prison in Newton and then hauled to locations around the state helping to bolster new housing stock in communities with marked need.
The program has seen a mix of public and private engagement. Norris said an Oelwein project and a West Burlington project are both public projects slated to move yet this year, but Thursday’s move in West Point was a private venture for Green Oak.
The moving crews brought the home in on a large trailer that actually disassembled and became part of a beam-and-run system where a tractor hooked up to the home with a heavy log chain and pulled the home onto a prepared foundation along a series crossbeams.
The internal beams then could be settled with hydraulics and jacks under the home and moved out through precut basement window openings.
Norris said Homes for Iowa wants to establish their own moving crews in 2021 to handle the heavier volume as more homes are produced at the Newton Correctional Facility.
The inmates building in Newton can actually engage in apprenticeships while they are building and then upon release they can enter the workforce and fill needed skilled labor positions.
Homes for Iowa is a non-profit that has partnered with Iowa Prison Industries. Norris said there is no state appropriations to help fund the effort at this point and the board would like to see the operations funded as an enterprise fund, where revenues from the homes pay for the expenses.
“If we were to get state support at some point to expand, then it would be gravy at that time.”
The homes are complete except for finished flooring and appliances. They are fully plumbed and wired.
Mohrfeld said he wanted to see what the program was about so agreed to purchase one of the homes to see how it fit into the Green Oak Development models.
“The program is in its infancy, but it’s getting some feet. It’s pretty cool.”
Mohrfeld said he wasn’t involved really to any degree in the design of the home.
“There are about three color selections of siding, and that’s about it,” Mohrfeld said with a laugh.
He said he’s looking at a different design offering for the Green Oak Development near 33rd Street off Bluff Road in Fort Madison.
“Anywhere we can make it work, we’d like to get behind these programs,” Mohrfeld said.
“There are some strings attached but it does work. The next step is to see community impression and see how sellable it is.”
The home was set on an unfinished 8-foot basement which would enable the home to have up to five bedrooms. Mohrfeld said he’s planning a garage and driveway as well.
He didn’t get a tax credit he applied for to help offset some of the costs of the project. He said the credit program was saturated, but in the future additional credits to home builders would encourage him, at least, to invest in more of the homes.
The home was set just south of South Park in a subdivision with homes built by Green Oak.