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Village Council

Village Council prioritizes housing needs

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Yellow Springs is expected to grow in upcoming years at a more rapid rate than surrounding areas. To accommodate that growth, the village needs more housing than it currently has. And while housing needs cross all income levels, the most critical need is for affordable rental housing.

That information, presented to Village Council’s Jan. 16 meeting by Patrick Bowen of Bowen National Research, was the main thrust of the Yellow Springs Housing Needs Assessment that the firm conducted after being hired by Village Council last fall.

Yellow Springs rentals tend to be less available, more expensive and in worse shape than those in surrounding communities, Bowen said. Consequently, the village loses potential residents, especially young adults, who ultimately choose to live elsewhere.

 “Surrounding areas beat Yellow Springs every time,” he said.

 The Bowen firm studied demographic, economic and housing data for the study, along with interviewing a variety of stakeholders in the community. Council paid $24,900 for the study.

Housing Strategies

The Village could take steps to counter current housing trends, according to the Bowen study, including the following:

1. Explore programs that assist developers and those seeking housing. Currently, the state of Ohio offers more than two dozen programs that assist housing development or aid those seeking housing, the study says. 

2. Support affordable rental housing for seniors, low-income households and workforce households.

3. Support and encourage development of high-income for-sale housing. 

4. Support special needs housing initiatives and housing, with an emphasis on the homeless and those with disabilities.

5. Preserve and renovate current aging housing stock.

6. Explore housing initiatives that retain or attract millennials.

7. Continue to promote policies and initiatives that promote the development of small lots.

8. Explore development partnerships, including Home, Inc., Greene Metropolitan Housing Authority, local businesses and private developers.

9. Encourage the development of vacant parcels.

10. Encourage development of mixed-income housing at the Glass Farm.

In a phone interview this week, Bowen emphasized that Yellow Springs has a wide variety of housing needs, including both high-end for-sale homes and affordable rentals.

“There’s a broad spectrum of housing needs,” he said.

 According to his study, the village could accommodate about 500 new housing units in the next few years, far more than those needed to meet projected growth figures of about 200 households. The discrepancy reflects current factors that are keeping current housing expansion down, he said, including a lack of housing stock, a lack of affordable units, housing cost-burdened families, and other factors.

“Demand is more than housing growth projections,” he said.

The complete Bowen study, more than 400 pages long, is available online at http://www.yso.com. While the News covered the Council meeting presentation highlights in the Jan. 18 paper, this article looks at the study in more detail.

In an interview last week, Council President Brian Housh said the housing study is critical to Council’s effort to address housing needs.

“It really does provide the tools and framework we need to create a plan for housing,” he said. 

Council’s upcoming effort on housing will take a more proactive stance than that of previous Councils, according to Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen. 

“Village government has never taken the initiative in housing before,” she said.

The housing study has confirmed critical local needs that previously had been known only anecdotally, MacQueen said.

“Both the data and the citizen survey told us what we already suspected,” MacQueen said, referring to the study’s conclusion that affordability is a significant factor for many living in the village.

 To take the next steps, a Village housing committee has been formed, with members Housh, MacQueen and Judith Hempfling from Council, Village Manager Patti Bates and Assistant Manager Melissa Dodd and villagers Kevin McGruder and Liz Voigt. 

The group will sponsor four gatherings in upcoming weeks open to the public, aimed at discussing the data provided by the housing report. While about 580 villagers responded to a survey from the Bowen firm, “People haven’t had an opportunity to talk about it yet,” MacQueen said.

Following the citizen events, the housing group will make recommendations to Council. 

The affordability and housing availability issues are critical, according to Housh, and he plans to keep them in front of Council in monthly discussions.

“We hope to have a plan this year and [start] building as soon as possible,” Housh said.

 Most important, according to Bowen at the Jan. 16 meeting, is that Council take do-able steps toward the goal of providing more housing.

“Start with something achievable to get the ball rolling,” he said.

Need for more

In general, the village could accommodate a significant number of new housing units, about 500 in all, according to the Bowen report. 

This expanded housing base would include 100 units of subsidized rental housing, 80 units of low-income rental housing, 70 units of affordable workforce rental housing, 60 units of market-rate rental housing, 40 entry-level for-sale homes, 30 moderate-income for-sale homes and 120 high-income for-sale homes.

 According to the study, the above numbers were produced after a study of “recent and projected demographic trends and current and anticipated economic trends.”

While there’s a need for more housing across all income levels, there is especially a need for more affordable housing, and especially for rentals, the report states. Yellow Springs rentals tend to be more expensive and in worse shape than their counterparts in the surrounding areas.. There is also a lack of availability; out of 231 multifamily rental units, only four were for rent during the study period.

Regarding for-sale homes, the limited housing stock available on the market currently is relatively expensive, especially compared to surrounding areas, according to the study. At the time of the study, there were four homes on the market with an average price of $244,500. In contrast, there were 262 homes on the market in the surrounding area, with an average price of $79,900.

And while the largest share, 38.2 percent, of homes sold in Yellow Springs between 2014 and 2017 were priced between $150,000 and $199,000, a significant number of homes on the market, or 44 percent, were priced above $200,000, the study reported. 

The high cost of for-sale homes and rentals has led to many villagers struggling with housing costs beyond their means, according to the study, which identifies 43 percent, or 251 households as paying more than 30 percent of their income toward rent, which means they are considered “cost burdened” by housing costs. More than 200 of those households are rental units.

And 218 owner-occupied households are cost burdened, the study said, so that there is less of residents’ income available for other needs.

Much of local housing stock is old and reaching a point that requires repairs or modernization, the report states, with many of the rentals and individually owned homes over 50 years old.

 More affordable housing choices could help address the current situation in which more than 1,200 people commute to Yellow Springs each day for work, then commute back again to their homes in surrounding towns. The average wage of workforce individuals is 120 percent of the Area Median Household income, which in Greene County was $61,616 in 2016. 

“If you want to capture more people, you want the ones who already work here,” Bowen said at last week’s meeting.

 Seniors, millennials rule

The fastest growing groups in Yellow Springs are senior citizens and young adults, the study said.

In a phone interview this week, Bowen said this projection reflects not only local but national demographic trends, where baby boomers and millennials are the fastest growing segments of the population.

Currently, the average age of a villager is 50.1 years, which is far older than the average age of 37.3 years of those in the surrounding area. And the largest share of households (23.7 percent) currently is among those ages 55 to 64, with the next largest share houses of those 65 to 71 (20 percent) and 75-plus (16.2 percent).

 Along with being older, villagers as a group are far more highly educated and are wealthier than people in surrounding communities, the study shows. About one third of villagers hold a graduate degree, while only 10 percent of Ohioans have that level of education. And more than two thirds have a college degree, which is held by only about 15 percent of those in the surrounding area.

 Perhaps due to that high level of education, villagers are wealthier than their neighbors. The majority of village households, or almost 61 percent, have an income of above $50,000 annually, and 27.7 percent of households bring in more than $100,000.

 Yet while the village is a wealthy community as a whole, it also has many residents living in poverty. Twenty percent of households earn less than $25,000 a year, and of the 651 village residents younger than 18, 157, or 24.1 percent, live in poverty.

The economic picture for Yellow Springs and the surrounding area is rosy, according to Bowen. The Greene County employment rate has been rising and will continue to rise, according to the study, and locally the village contains a generally well-balanced range of employers, including manufacturing, healthcare, education, retail and public administration.

Senior, young people housing

Not surprisingly, given the current demographics, the greatest projected household growth in Yellow Springs will take place among households of those aged 65 to 74, which are projected to increase by 56, or 16.4 percent, in the next several years. Senior households of those aged 75 or older will also grow by 13.5 percent, or 37 individual households.

This need among seniors encompasses both a need for more low-income rental  units, and high-income for-sale homes according to Bowen. What’s common among the housing needs for the senior demographic is the small size; the average household size of local homeowners is 2.16 people, which is smaller than the surrounding area average of 2.34 people. Also, the average renter household size  in Yellow Springs is 1.74 people, compared to 2.22 persons in the surrounding area.

But seniors who wish to downsize still have difficulty finding housing to meet their needs, according to the Bowen report, which stated that “senior-oriented independent living housing is and will be an important component to the overall housing market,” including senior-oriented rentals and condominiums.

However, while there is considerable need for appropriate homes for independent seniors, the senior care market, which includes nursing homes and assisted living, appears to be meeting current needs, the report states. 

“There is a good base of available product from which seniors needing physical and medical care assistance can choose,” the report states.

The second fastest growing demographic in Yellow Springs is millenials, those aged 24 to 35. This demographic is projected to grow by 40 households, or 22.5 percent. However, the lack of affordable housing and good quality housing makes the village vulnerable to losing residents in this demographic, according to Bowen. 

“Given the lack of available product and very limited modern, good quality product, Yellow Springs runs the risk of losing these young persons to surrounding areas,” the study states.

Housing for diversity

The Bowen study confirmed that Yellow Springs has experienced a significant drop in racial diversity in recent years. In 2010, about 80 percent of the population identified as white, while 20 percent identified as a member of a minority.

This demographic illustrated a considerable change in village diversity since 1970, when 27.4 percent of village residents were members of minority groups. This change suggests a loss of 567 individuals of color since 1970, or a 44.1 percent decline in the minority demographic.

In Bowen’s recommendation, the firm urged Yellow Springs to take a proactive stance toward reversing that trend, including using housing initiatives. The study encourages increased marketing to promote Yellow Springs as a welcoming and diverse community; supporting anti-discrimination policies; and encouraging holders of floating Housing Choice vouchers, which is a federal program assisting low-income Americans, to move to Yellow Springs.

Such initiatives “could help to stop or reverse the declining trends of minorities and low-income households within Yellow Springs,” the study states.

Room to grow?

According to the Bowen study, there appears to be room to develop the needed housing in the village. The study identified land adequate to create more than 700 new units, although the study stated that likely not all would be viable or capable of generating the desired number of units. While the study did identify 15 properties and four buildings that appear capable of providing housing, Bowen, in response to a question from Home, Inc. Director Emily Seibel, stated that it was not clear how many of those properties were for sale.

One clear housing option is the Village-owned Glass Farm, a 44-acre area on the northwest side of the village. However, since about 14 of those acres are being used for the Village solar farm and wetlands, about 30 acres are available for housing, MacQueen said this week.

The Glass Farm could hold 131 single-family homes or 327 multifamily units, according to Bowen.

“You could do some good things there,” Bowen said to Council.

Residents perceive problems

 According to Bowen, the response of 581 villagers to the firm’s survey of residents broke their own record for level of community response, indicating the engaged nature of those who live in Yellow Springs.

“That was a record response for us,” he said.

Most who responded to the survey were satisfied with their own housing, with 79.6  percent ranking their housing as a 4 or 5 when asked to rank satisfaction level, with a 5 being Most Satisfied.

The reason most residents gave for living in Yellow Springs was an appreciation of  a feeling of community “vibe” and diversity, the survey said.

But 88 percent of respondents described the local housing market as only “poor” or “fair,” and identified high prices and rents, and high taxes, as the biggest challenges to living in town.

Almost 70 percent of respondents said that it’s a challenge “to find suitable housing” in the village, stating that affordability/cost and a limited housing supply were the major reasons.

Those who live in Yellow Springs tend to stay here if they can, the study said. Only about 12 percent of villagers move in a given year, which ranks the local population as “highly stable,” the report said.

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Village Council prioritizes housing needs

by Diane Chiddister