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Will Marne’s Free Land Offer Work? Ask Folks in Osceola

OSCEOLA, Iowa — As the tiny town of Marne announces its plan to offer free land to home builders, we look to see how a similar program worked in southern Iowa.

It’s been over a year since the plan to give away free land was put into action in Osceola. Bill Trickey, director of the Clarke County Development Corporation says they’ve seen results.

“We’ve done four of the lots so far on our lot giveaway program and we have five more lots in the pipeline right now” said Trickey.

Those lots are a mixture between developers and private home builders. On top of what’s been done, Trickey says a developer has started construction on 50 single family homes, and a second developer has been approved to build 40 new townhomes.

“There’s a reason the hospital did an expansion, there’s a reason our school district just passed a bond initiative, there’s a reason we have two to three housing districts, there’s also a reason why we’re building a lake reservoir, we’re growing” said Osceola Mayor Thomas Kedley.

However, many of the new homes being built don’t have a buyer already in place. Trickey says they’ve planned for that.

“We gave our spec builders a cushion worth the value of that lot, so that if it took them a while to sell the house, they could stand that wait” he said.

Don Brill originally planned to build 20 houses in Osceola, he says waiting for a buyer can risky. Brill says even with free land his lumber costs have gone up over 10% in 16 months, and today it’s nearly impossible to build a new home for under $200,000.

“What happens is these small towns aren’t acclimated with the cost of what a real house costs to build, so there’s a little bit of sticker shock involved. One of the reasons of moving out to a small town, you want your cost of living to be lower” said Brill.

Brill says he ended up just building two homes in Osceola, having a hard time finding buyers who had the credit to qualify. Brill says it won’t be impossible for the Marne program to work, but in a town far smaller than Osceola, it will be more difficult.

“It’ll come down to what they’re pooling their people from, knowing that they can afford this $200,000 home, and if they can qualify for it. It’s a numbers game. It comes down to how many people can do it, and even if it only helps four or five or six, that’s still positive for that little town” said Brill.

Leaders in Osceola say they’re looking forward to the 2020 census to see how they’ve grown.