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Affordability is top concern in attracting new families

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Creating more entry-level housing, keeping living expenses affordable and more aggressively marketing Yellow Springs to the region — these were some of the ideas offered at a recent meeting that focused on how to attract more young families to the village.

“We need to raise our visibility and tell our story beyond our own walls,” said Sean Creighton, president of the Yellow Springs Board of Education, at the Aug. 26 meeting.

The event was a special joint meeting between the school board and the Village Council, with a focus on how to attract young families to town. Both governmental bodies have an interest in doing so, as more children will strengthen the schools and more residents will contribute to the local tax base. About 20 villagers attended the event.

Several who spoke emphasized that the lack of affordable housing in town is currently an obstacle to young people.

“I came, I saw, I was hooked,” said Enshané Nomoto, a new resident who was looking for a place to live with her husband and two young sons after she got a job at Wright Patterson Air Force Base several years ago. “But when I looked at housing prices, I knew we’d have serious problems.”

The couple — she’s African American and he’s Japanese — did end up moving to Yellow Springs, partly because they sought a diverse community for their children. But Nomoto said she’s concerned about the effects of relatively high housing costs on other young families.

“Diversity will take care of itself if you take care of affordable housing,” she said.

Margaret Morgan, who in recent years moved to the village with her husband, Jason, an artist, and their two children, stated that without the Home, Inc. house they purchased at Thistle Creek, they would not have lived in Yellow Springs.

“Affordable housing is the way to go,” she said.

But “the elephant in the room for this village” is the overall cost of living here, said Phyllis Schmidt, who said that “people love coming here but the amenities are expensive.” Council needs to be cognizant of how the decisions they make affect overall living costs for everyone, she said.

Several speakers, including Council member Karen Wintrow, stated that while there’s a need for entry-level housing, there is also a need for all kinds of housing in town.

Village government could make “structural changes” that make moving to Yellow Springs more attractive to young families, such as a program that offers potential home buyers assistance with down payments, according to Brooke Bryan, who also emphasized the need for more local jobs.

“We need a functional revolving loan fund, one that revolves,” she said, referring to the Village Economic Revolving Loan Fund, which has been largely dormant the past several years due to lack of funds. The fund’s purpose is to support new or existing businesses.

Attracting small entrepreneurs, “two or three smart guys who make money on the computer,” to the village is a more realistic strategy than going after big business, according to Craig Mesure, who urged the elected officials to more aggressively promote the strengths of Yellow Springs.

“We have a lot of tools if we use them,” he said. “We need to emphasize the positive things we have.”

Promoting the quality of local schools is one way to attract young people, according to Creighton, who announced that Yellow Springs recently learned that it achieved “Excellent with Distinction,” status from state testing results last year, the highest category possible.

“The Yellow Springs schools are the most essential assets to attract new families. People move here because they want their kids to go to the schools,” he said.

In fact, school enrollment is increasing, according to Superintendent Mario Basora, who said the schools gained 34 students this year. In 2007–2008, the schools had about 700 students, Basora said, and now the overall number is 746.

However, a significant portion of the increase is students from other districts attending through open enrollment, a program which accounts for 22 percent of the public school body, he said.

The number of students in the school district has significantly declined compared to 40 years ago, when his own children were small, according to Wally Sikes, who said there were 1,200 students then, compared to about 600 local students (without open enrollment numbers) now.

A board member of Home, Inc., Sikes also stressed that he believes a lack of starter homes has contributed to the lack of young families.

“We need all kinds of good housing but especially entry level housing,” he said.

Citing the results of the recently completed year-long visioning process, Council President Judith Hempfling stated that the action step supported by the largest number of visioning participants was to create more affordable housing.

“At this point, there’s a consensus that we need jobs and housing,” she said.

Given the community consensus, it’s appropriate for Council to take steps to use Village-owned land to provide “mixed use and mixed income housing,” she said, stating that “we need to move that plan forward in a timely way.”

Statistics gathered in a trends analysis by ACP Visioning+Planning, the Columbus firm that oversaw the visioning process, make clear that Yellow Springs has undergone significant demographic changes in the past several decades, according to Hempfling. In the decade between 1990 and 2000, local median housing prices increased 96 percent while median income went up 50 to 60 percent, according to the analysis.

During that time the village has grown older, whiter and richer, with the median age 22 in 1970 (a figure linked to then-high Antioch College enrollment numbers) to over 40 in 2000, according to statistics presented by Al Schlueter. During that period diversity has declined, with the African-American population declining from 26 percent to 16 percent of the village.

The meeting also included a school board presentation on the 2020 Initiative and a Village Council presentation on Council’s six 2010 goals. Shared activities of the two bodies were also discussed, including the development of a School Travel Plan for the Safe Routes to School program, which seeks to win a federal grant to improve travel routes to local schools.

Several participants encouraged the school board and Council to continue their collaborative effort.

“This is an opportunity to put our heads together collectively to think about good things for the village,” said Benji Maruyama, the vice-president of the school board.

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