HANNIBAL | Stakeholders from across the Tri-State area gathered at the Y Men's Pavilion in downtown Hannibal on Thursday, June 11, sharing ideas and programs aimed at boosting existing housing stock and bringing new housing options to life in local communities.
The 2020 event summit was sponsored by Northeast Community Action Corporation, the Tri-State Development Summit, Two Rivers Regional Council of Governments, Southeast Iowa Regional Planning and the city of Hannibal, and officials from each agency offered updates on programs to help restore and establish new housing options. Garry Preston talked about how community programs helped him and his family go from being without a home to living the American dream. Rep. Louis Riggs (R-5) was among the 50 people in attendance to adhere to social distancing guidelines, and he said hearing Preston's story was a moving example of why housing programs from local agencies like NECAC are so vital.
Keynote Speaker Deb Brown's friends told her before she arrived in America's Hometown 'you're going to love Hannibal. It's a beautiful river town, a slower pace of life and people are so friendly here.'” “And they were absolutely right,” Brown said. “It is all those three things. I like to drive around these small towns when I get here, and take a look at what the housing looks like and what the businesses look like, and if there are and empty buildings.”
She said Hannibal is like many small towns, with some vacant buildings and storefronts. Her presentation included some ideas on how to spruce up or repurpose some of those buildings to benefit the community.
Brown, co-founder of SaveYour.Town, talked about traditional trends to help fill empty buildings and attract more residents, from second story artwork in vacant downtown windows to roofless “buildings,” like the painted facade next to the Rialto Banquet Center after an August 2016 fire destroyed the former site. She talked about current trends which bring growth to communities, like geothermal heat, drones and electronic monitoring of soil conditions, seed and fertilizer levels for local farmers — along with new trends such as outdoor museums, traveling and shopping in the era of COVID-19 and promoting and selling items using online social media platforms like Instagram.
Brown visits small towns all over the nation, staying for a week to talk about new approaches and help citizens boost their small towns with SaveYour.Town business partner, BeckyMcCray. Brown talked about taking action with smaller steps, forgoing formal
meetings when possible and working toward an“idea-friendly approach.”
“Failure is not a bad thing,” Brown said. “It shows us what works and what doesn't.”
And Brown encouraged everyone to stay engaged with members of government at every level. Riggs said years of hard work and listening to the needs of students and workers — made especially prevalent during the coronavirus pandemic and the rapid shift to remote learning and working — is bringing improved access and speed for broadband internet to more rural areas of the state. He said the latest bill for increased broadband access, which received support across Missouri's House and Senate, is on Gov. Parson's desk now. He said there are funding issues to work out, but he said the bill will be a “nice booster shot for the state,” which has several rural areas with no available broadband options. He commended NECAC for the work they do to help homeowners throughout their 12-county area.
“What I really like about NECAC's approach is there's a self-help component,” Riggs said. “They have a full-time resource that's able to go into these houses and get things prepared in real-time. I love the weatherization program — it can keep people in houses where the utility costs are reasonable. And the housing stock we've got, repairing it is a far less expensive option than tearing it down and starting over.”