Service activities highlight Community Housing Initiatives continued commitment to Spencer

  |     |   In Development, Northwest Iowa News

Serving communities statewide, CHI remains committed to Northwest Iowa

Staff assembled little free libraries which will be placed at CHI apartment communities to allow anyone who wishes to take or leave a book.

It is part family reunion, part training seminar, and part service event as 33 staff of Community Housing Initiatives converge on Spencer Thursday and Friday this week for their annual company retreat.  Throughout, the two days of events give a look at what it’s like to provide Northwest Iowans a quality place to live at a rent they can afford.

CHI staff teams will put the finishing touches on a playground at Southern Pointe Apartments, a new 30 unit property that opened on the south side of Spencer last year that is now almost fully leased. They will update landscaping and the clubhouse building at Spencer Manor, an apartment community on the north side of town that CHI acquired in 2015.  Staff also receive a range of training and collaboration opportunities while in town.

Founded in nearby Graettinger in 1994, Community Housing Initiatives offers affordable apartments in 30 cities in Iowa, some as far away as Ottumwa and Clinton across the state.  But with the organization preparing to take over Sunset Retirement Home in Spencer, the organization’s commitment to its Northwest Iowa home is as strong as ever.


Sunset retirement home will receive significant updates next year.

Community Housing Initiative’s latest effort in Spencer is to take over the Sunset Retirement Home which currently offers 100 one-bedroom and efficiency apartments.  Opened in three phases between 1965 and 1997, the property has been a vital option for hundreds of seniors in the community, but after as long as a half century in service, the property is in need of significant upgrades.

Earlier this year, Community Housing Initiatives successfully received housing tax credits which will finance a renovation to Sunset, with the bulk of the work taking place in 2018.  The renovation will consolidate smaller efficiency apartments into larger one-bedroom floor plans, bringing the total number of apartments to 91 when work is complete.  Apartments will also get welcome upgrades like in-unit laundry, new appliances, and more.  The building will be open throughout the renovations, which are expected to be complete in 2019.

Sunset presents a different challenge than CHI’s most recent project in Spencer, the 30-apartment Southern Pointe development on the city’s south side.

Southern Pointe Apartments.

“Southern Pointe was a chance to add housing with large three and four bedroom apartments for families, after we heard again and again from local leaders the area needed more housing in this niche,” said Kris Vodraska, CHI’s director of construction.

“Our work at Sunset has a very different goal—in this case to keep existing apartments for seniors available for years to come.  It’s a different niche in the community, but one which we are just as fortunate to be able to fill because a lot of folks depend on properties like Sunset to have a decent place to live on a fixed income,” she said.

Iowa is already home to the nation’s 14th highest percentage of population over 65, and the state’s senior population is growing, so providing housing that meets the needs of seniors an increasingly important priority.  As the state’s population is aging, so is its supply of affordable housing, adding urgency to the challenge of keeping properties like Sunset in good condition.


For housing to be “affordable,” most experts agree it should not cost more than about 1/3 of a household’s income.  For many Iowans, though, finding suitable housing can stretch the paycheck much further – research shows as many as 1 in 5 Iowa renter households devote more than half their paycheck to they place they live.

A range of government programs and private investors help close that gap, and as a private nonprofit, CHI utilizes those resources to offer apartments that are within reach for those in need in the community.

“Our residents are a reflection of the community, retired people, families who need a good place for their kids, your friends and neighbors around town.  Everybody knows Spencer is a nice place to live, and we are happy to help put that in reach for more people,” said Brittany Spieker, CHI’s regional property manager for the area.

Indeed, the many benefits affordable housing provides are well documented. Safe, decent, and affordable housing stabilizes families and is related to better health outcomes. Children who grow up in stable housing tend to perform better in school and show fewer behavioral problems. Having affordable housing in communities boosts economic growth by ensuring all segments of the workforce have a quality place to live.


The service projects CHI staff will complete at Spencer Manor this week are part of a group of projects staff are completing around the state known the organization calls “Strategic Investment.” That means residents at the apartment community have met multiple times to offer their input on what updates they would  like to see at the property, and now CHI staff are gathering to deliver the work.

“We offer more than just apartments, we want our properties to be great places to live.  That means we try to have the best relationship we can with residents and offer them opportunities to get involved and get connected with their neighbors,” Spieker said.

The service projects are funded by NeighborWorks America, a national network of nonprofits to which CHI belongs that has created opportunities for people to improve their lives and strengthen their communities by providing access to homeownership and to safe and affordable rental housing for more than 35 years.

“At some point each year, everyone in the organization, from the board and the president on down, is involved in direct programs that serve our residents.  Staff value the opportunity to visit our properties and remember who we are here to serve,” Spieker said.

This post was updated after the event to include photos on June 27.

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