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Social & Education Policy

Filling the Gap: Addressing Vacant Parcels and Missing Housing in Fairfield, Iowa

Seiple, E.; Anthony, J.; Garza, K.; Roberts, S.; Odeyemi, S.; McKee, H.; Mackaman, W.; Menjares, N.; Bell, C.; Freeman, L.; Seubert, T.
05/2016

Abstract

Fairfield, Iowa is a vibrant small town in southeastern Iowa with a population that has consistently hovered around 9,500 over the past three-and-a-half decades. The city is located at the crossroads of Iowa Hwy 1 and U.S. Route 34, approximately 60 miles southwest of Iowa City and 60 miles west of the Mississippi River.1 Fairfield is the county seat of Jefferson County and has a total area of 5.74 square miles.2 Fairfield attracts diverse residents and visitors, with university students making up approximately one-tenth of its population. 

Vacant land and homes were highlighted as a community concern and subject for this study in 2016. The complexity of accurately tracking the quantity and location of these areas makes developing these areas a challenge. Other housing concerns also complicate infill: housing values in the city are lower than comparably-sized communities and far below state levels, yet affordably priced housing is scarce for certain age groups and income levels, especially those earning entry-level wages. Furthermore, a 2014 windshield survey of 2,835 single-family homes revealed over 30% to be in poor or dilapidated condition. Current inspection and code enforcement regimes have not been sufficient to maintain housing quality throughout the city. The presence of aging and dilapidated homes near developable land is a challenge both to developers and those seeking affordably priced homes in Fairfield, as it makes producing quality housing less economically viable. Infrastructure costs and the inability to develop higher-density residential housing have become barriers to development and revitalization efforts within established neighborhoods. 

Vacant parcels, and otherwise underutilized development opportunities, throughout the city provide an opportunity for infill development that brings high-quality housing to existing neighborhoods and increases the overall supply. Many programs are in place at the city level to incentivize development within Fairfield. Whether or not these programs are sufficient to meet the needs of developers and low- to moderate-income households in Fairfield is not yet certain. Strategies are needed to make development on these parcels viable and most beneficial for the city’s needs.