Economic Development Tourism Historic Preservation
Calhoun County, Iowa

      Many rural communities across Iowa are struggling with housing shortages, but Lohrville is embracing a creative approach to this challenge. From the outside, their solution looks like a modern, ranch-style home on the north side of Highway 175. There’s so much more to this remarkable story, though.     

       “We need affordable housing, and we can’t just keep bulldozing down old houses,” said Ann Gemberling, a Lohrville-area resident who is involved with Lohrville Visions, a non-profit, 501(c)(3) group dedicated to the beautification and improvement of Lohrville. “We were very interested when we heard about Homes for Iowa.”

Homes for Iowa, Inc. ( is a 501(c)(3) organization that exists to address Iowa’s housing shortage. Iowa Prison Industries builds moderately-priced homes near the Newton Correctional Facility in Newton, Iowa. Each home is a turnkey, stick-built, three-bedroom, two-bath, 1,200-square-foot house that can be set on basement or crawlspace. “There are different models of these homes available, since they can be configured for a garage,” Gemberling said.

Once complete, the homes are trucked to home sites across Iowa, including Lohrville. “We knew this opportunity was too good to pass up,” said Lois Irwin, a long-time Lohrville resident and community booster. “We have lots of space in town and can accommodate new homes like this.”

Offenders in the criminal justice system build the houses that are constructed through Homes for Iowa. As part of the process, they are trained in the skilled building trades, including an apprenticeship curriculum. In addition, the homes’ solid-wood cabinets are made by offenders in the South Dakota Department of Corrections system.

Not only does Homes for Iowa help address Iowa’s housing challenges, but the program is designed to spur economic development. It can also help reduce recidivism (the tendency of convicted criminals to reoffend), since Homes for Iowa creates a pipeline of skilled trades to the construction industry.

“It has been easy to work with Iowa Prison Industries,” said Gemberling, who serves on the Calhoun County Economic Development board. “We’re excited to be part of Homes for Iowa.”

“It’s about the greater good for the community”

            While it has been a number of years since a new house was built in Lohrville, members of Lohrville Visions were ready to invest in new housing options. Local Councils of Governments (COGs) are the contacts for anyone interested in purchasing a Homes for Iowa home. Lohrville worked with the Mid Iowa Development Association Council of Governments (MIDAS), which serves Calhoun County.

Project supporters in Lohrville and at MIDAS were intrigued by Homes for Iowa’s unique approach to increase affordable housing options in Iowa, especially in rural areas. These energy-efficient, affordable, ranch-style homes are delivered on site for $90,000. Each home ships completely constructed and finished, while the buyer/developer adds appliances and floor coverings. Delivery throughout the state is included in the home price.

            “These homes are very well built,” said Gemberling, who noted that Lohrville’s Home for Iowa was delivered in September 2022.

            It’s a plus that a number of area residents have construction skills and excavation equipment and were willing to help make the house move-in ready. GK Builders, a Lohrville-based contractor, for example, built the basement in the new home.

“We’re blessed that various people can help with a little piece of the puzzle and are willing to give back to the community,” said Jolene “Jake” Beenen, the librarian at the J.J. Hands Public Library in Lohrville.

Once the home was ready, project leaders in Lohrville advertised the house on Facebook. The house sold in early 2023 and now provides a comfortable home for the new owner. “Everyone wants to live in a pleasant environment,” Irwin said. “It’s part of my bucket-list goals to keep improving Lohrville.”

Homes for Iowa plans to build 800+ moderately-priced homes during the next 10 years in collaboration with Iowa Prison Industries. Lohrville is proud to be part of this. “Lohrville is quintessential, small-town Iowa,” Beenen said. “Around here, it’s not about status or money. It’s about the greater good for the community.”



written by Darcy Maulsby

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