The Stella: Affordable housing complex to be built in Grinnell

Eleanor Corbin, Staff Writer

The city of Grinnell recently approved a new low-income housing development called “The Stella,” which will be located south of Eighth Avenue and east of Bliss Street. The Stella, as well as several other low-income housing projects, was proposed after the 2020 Grinnell Housing Assessment, which noted a lack of affordable housing for residents in town.

This past June, an Illinois-based development company called North Star came to Grinnell to inquire about potential sites for the new housing development in Grinnell. Tyler Avis, Grinnell City director of building and planning, said he gave representatives at North Star a list of several potential properties around town. 

Since June, the developers have selected a property, applied for low-income housing grants and created initial designs for the eventual development. The preliminary plans show 34 housing units in the new development, 30 of which will be low-income, in addition to a playground, a dog walking area and an area with grills and picnic benches.

Low-income housing units can be priced in a variety of ways. Some units are based on percentage of income, in that only those who make either 80%, 60% or 40% of median income of Grinnell can apply to lease a given unit. Other units accept Section 8 vouchers. Section 8 is a provision written by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that provides housing choice vouchers to low-income families, seniors and those with disabilities.

Susan Hiner, executive director of the Grinnell Housing Authority, said that she does not know whether The Stella plans to use Section 8 or create their own income base.

According to the Grinnell Herald-Register, the Iowa Finance Authority (IFA) has granted $980,441 in low-income housing tax credits to the project. They have additionally been awarded a one-time $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of their HOME program, a grant program which distributes funds to state and local governments to increase homeownership and affordable housing.

Russ Behrens, Grinnell city manager, said that the city had a very little role in the planning or funding of this project beyond writing a letter of recommendation from the city to include in their applications for funding.

“The idea is that they [North Star] build a product that is affordable and needed by the community,” said Behrens.

Behrens also listed some other low-income housing projects that the city was more involved in: the Spaulding Lofts apartments, located next to city hall, and The Row on Reed, located next to the hospital, are low-income housing projects pursued by the city. Both developments received Workforce Housing tax credits.

According to the 2020 Grinnell Housing Assessment, in which the city of Grinnell hired a firm called the Real Property Research Group to assess the current housing stock, Grinnell has room for improvement in terms of making housing affordable and available. 

The report describes Grinnell as “historically limited by a lack of quality housing units and higher land/homeowner costs.”

It also notes that two-thirds of workers in Grinnell commute from outside of the city. Hiner said that she recognizes the dearth of housing, particularly of two-bedroom units.

“For anyone needing to leave a current residence, whether it’s for domestic or divorce or just aging out of the home, there’s not enough housing for people to apply for,” Hiner said.

Behrens said that the recent focus on these new low-income developments “was a direct effort based on that housing assessment.”

In addition to The Stella, plans are in place to build a 48-unit development on Industrial Avenue south of Walmart. If all planned developments are built, the Housing Assessment projects a total of 52 surplus units, satisfying the estimated lack of affordable housing.

Avis says that he expects to receive finalized architectural plans this fall or winter and for construction to begin in the spring or summer of 2023.