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USDA program helps dream of home come true

While the past couple of years have been a financial challenge for many Americans, the goal of achieving the American dream of home-ownership remains strong, especially in Iowa.

USDA program helps dream of home come true

While the past couple of years have been a financial challenge for many Americans, the goal of achieving the American dream of home-ownership remains strong, especially in Iowa.

Recent U.S. Census data pegs Iowa’s homeownership rate at 70.1%, a respectable number when compared to other states during the latter part of 2010. “The country has been working hard to climb out of an economic recession since the collapse of the housing market and ensuing credit crunch in late 2007,” notes Bill Menner, USDA Rural Development state director in Iowa. “Homeownership is the backbone to a strong economy, especially in rural America.”

According to the Iowa Association of Realtors, or IAR, a total of 28,772 homes were sold in Iowa through the first 11 months of 2010. This compares to 30,301 home sales during the same period in 2009. “We had several strong months of sales during the spring and summer in 2010,” says Kurt Schade, president of the association. “With interest rates at record lows, many families entered the housing market for the first time or moved up to purchase larger homes.”

Key Points

USDA Rural Development agency made a big impact in helping rural Iowa in 2010.

Agency has a homeownership loan program to help eligible borrowers.

With interest rates at record lows, many families have entered the housing market.

Although sales activity for homes in Iowa tapered off during the last few months of 2010, sales were still comparable to 2009, down just 5%. “Realtors in Iowa have reported increases in calls and activities since the fall elections, and we believe sales activity will eventually follow in early 2011,” Schade adds.

Home sale prices in Iowa fluctuated throughout 2010 and ended the year slightly higher than 2009. The IAR reported the statewide median sales price for houses was $125,000 in 2010, compared to $124,000 in 2009.

USDA homeownership loans

During the last couple of years, USDA Rural Development has been very involved in making homeownership a reality for thousands of rural Iowans. Thanks to additional funds made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a record 2,400 families in rural Iowa received $233.2 million in mortgage assistance from USDA Rural Development in 2010.

“By qualifying for the USDA loan program, we were able to build a new home that was much larger and better-suited for our family,” says Tara Fichter. Tara, husband Jason and their four young children moved into their new home in Glenwood in southwest Iowa last summer. “Working with the USDA was quite simple,” says Tara. “Their staff explained everything to us in great detail and always answered our questions.”

Before moving to their new home, the Fichters lived in a 100-year-old home, with only one bathroom, small bedrooms, and shared closet and sleeping space. Their home now has four bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, and enough room for the young and busy family.

“Our children just love their new backyard and were so excited to pick out their paint colors to decorate their own rooms,” says Tara. “We look forward to making many more happy memories in our new home and are so grateful to USDA for helping us achieve this dream.”

Families move back to Iowa

Ben and Angie Johnston moved back to Iowa from Texas last summer, as Ben began his first year with the Garner Hayfield School District in north-central Iowa. One of the challenges of moving back was finding a house that would be comfortable for their eight children, who range in ages from 2 to 12 years old.

“We found out pretty quickly that it’s hard to find a rental home in Garner, even harder to find one big enough for 10 people,” says Angie. “We saw a picture of a house with a white picket fence, antique bike with a basket of flowers leaning on the front, and the front porch. It was love at first sight.”

The Johnstons’ home had four bedrooms when they purchased it with the assistance of a USDA home loan. After a little remodeling, the home now has six bedrooms, two bathrooms, two living areas, a huge kitchen, a large dining room and plenty of room outside.

“The yard is the perfect size for our big family,” says Angie. “The long driveway doubles as a basketball court. Having a yard big enough for golf practice, outdoor games, a trampoline and toddler freedom have been such a gift.”

For more information about housing loans through USDA Rural Development, call 515-284-4663, or visit

Leach is public information coordinator with USDA Rural Development in Iowa.

A growing family comes back home

Ben and Angie Johnston love children. “We agreed on at least four kids on the night Ben proposed marriage,” Angie recalls.

Both Ben and Angie grew up near the town of Garner in northern Iowa, and they knew they wanted to raise their children in rural Iowa because of the values they would learn in a small community.

While living most recently in Austin, Texas, their family continued to grow as they adopted their eighth child. The Johnston family now includes Ben and Angie and children Braeden, Ellyana, Christian, Maximus, Isabelle, Riya, Eli and Luke.

“Being back in Iowa has been such a joy for us,” says Angie. “To be able to give the kids freedom to ride around the block, to the recreation center and water park is so important.”

The Johnstons knew they were home the minute they moved in.

“Our first summer here was amazing,” says Angie. “The neighbors immediately welcomed us with fresh garden vegetables, baked treats and tips to get to know the area. Quick friendships were made when neighborhood kids saw our crew running around the yard.”


HOME SWEET HOME: It was love at first sight, or “site,” for the Johnston family when they found this home in Garner.


BEST CHRISTMAS EVER: The Fichter children enjoyed celebrating their first Christmas in their new home.


FAMILY PHOTO: Ben and Angie Johnston were excited to move back to Iowa with their eight children this past year.


HOUSEWARMING GIFT: Ben and Angie Johnston like small-town rural Iowa. They know their backyard and neighborhood are safe places for their children to play.

This article published in the February, 2011 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.

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