Chuck Vandenberg, current editor of Pen City
FORT MADISON — Residents of the city may have seen a house being driven in from the west side last week.
This home is one of more than 50 built over the past three years as part of the Homes for Iowa program, a delinquent-based initiative that builds homes from the ground up.
Developers can purchase the homes and ship them to communities across the state to fill housing shortages.
The program provides offenders who qualify to participate with skills-based training that will enable them to be more easily reintegrated into society after serving their sentence.
Mike Norris, President of Homes for Iowa, said Southeast Iowa has installed about 20% of the approximately 50 homes the program has produced. Lee County saw five of the houses in Keokuk, West Point and Fort Madison together.
Homes for Iowa is a 501c3 organization that facilitates the construction and sale of homes. The houses will be built at Newton Correctional Facility.
“We do all home sales and set program policies, do pricing with Iowa Prison Industries,” Norris said. “We basically order the houses from IPI, they train the men, build the house and move the house.”
Michael Mohrfeld of Fort Madison has purchased three of these homes and is currently installing two of them in Fort Madison. The third was placed at West Point a few years ago.
Mohrfeld said he enjoys the relationship with Homes for Iowa because of the value of the program. He said it not only provides affordable housing replacements, but also fills skills gaps by training offenders to fill jobs when they re-enter society.
“The great thing is that they teach them really conventional building. When you go to the site in Newton, they’re out there framing houses just like you would on a foundation of a house,” Mohrfeld said.
“It must not be confused with modular. It’s a dirty word in the industry. These are built entirely on poles and are supplied as a complete unit. There are no compromises in quality. This is purely a training exercise for the perpetrators. “
Mohrfeld is currently building one of the houses at Green Oak Court while also preparing the ground for another house at 236 Avenue E.
The houses have two bedrooms on the ground floor and a third one in the basement with a second bathroom in the basement. Amenities are on the ground floor, Mohrfeld says this could work for seniors or be a great starter home for a young family.
“It’s just another offer,” he said.
“If you’ve followed what we’re trying to do, just create an offer in all price ranges. Condos, entry level, good quality. These are great homes and I like the initiative behind them. Getting criminals back into the workforce is a huge challenge.”
Mohrfeld said the market is weird at the moment after exploding post-COVID.
“We are seeing things catching up and getting back to normal. We’ve been trying to figure out what the new needle is for the last three, six months,” he said.
“Costs are rising again, but interest rates are rising.”
Mohrfeld is also in the process of building a four-unit apartment complex in Victory Field.
Both this lot and the one on Avenue E are lots acquired from a city plan to bring derelict lots into the hands of developers.
The Fort Madison City Council announced the plan earlier this year and advertised the properties to the public.
Mohrfeld said two of the properties immediately caught his eye because they stood out as bad spaces in otherwise good neighborhoods.
“I eyed these because they are great neighborhoods and an example of a bad property in the mix. My initiative was to make them disappear.”
Morhfeld said he wants to complete those two projects and will then turn his attention to the Jefferson School’s former property and development there.
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