Affordable housing still in short supply in county


The Union County Affordable Housing Task Force continues to meet, hoping to help solve the community’s lack of affordable housing.
County Commissioner Chris Schmenk said she had a wake-up call after a meeting last year. In the February 2019 meeting, Building Industry Association of Central Ohio Executive Director Jon Melchi presented a Housing Need Assessment report. The report highlighted what Melchi called a significant housing shortfall for the entire region.
According to the study, Central Ohio will need to add more than 14,000 housing units per year to accommodate an estimated 500,000 new jobs and 1 million new residents by 2050. He said only about 8,000 housing units are being built annually in the region.
Schmenk said the task force has been looking at issues like available supply, affordability and transitional housing for the homeless.
At a meeting Thursday, Schmenk said she got “another wake-up call” about the price of both existing homes and new build homes. She said they are “very much out of the affordable range for many people in the county.
She said there is a lack of affordable single-family housing and multi-family housing in the county. Schmenk said the task force began to look at housing options compared to salaries of “key positions in our community.” She said it is important to consider the salaries for workers like firefighters, nurses, teacher and police officers who are “essential to a community.”
“We need to be able to have them live here and afford to live here,” Schmenk said.
She said it is also important to have a place for retail and hospitality workers to live.
“We need to consider, should we build a housing strategy into future county comprehensive planning,” Schmenk said.
The commissioner said the task force is looking at the possibility of incentives or subsidies to help developers create housing that is “more affordable to many.”
“We are still at the beginning of that,” Schmenk said of the discussion.
She said that many developers report they cannot create a high quality, affordable product without some assistance from local government.
Schmenk cited a report from the developer Woda Cooper. The developer creates affordable options that fit well into a community and meet high standards set by the community and the Ohio Housing Finance Agency. The company told task force members it could not do that without help.
Schmenk said she is “not opposed” to the high-end single and multi-family housing options that have come to Union County.
“I hope we continue to see the kind of investment to create that high end housing,” Schmenk said. “But if that is all you have, it creates a very lop-sided community.”
She said there needs to be housing options for a wide variety of people who are at different wage levels and points in their life, but all want to live and work in the community.
“If we can create that kind of complete ecosystem, we will have a heathy county,” Schmenk said.

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