According to information compiled from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the mean renter wage in Knox County is $13.48. This suggests an affordable rent of $701. This table shows the hourly rate needed to afford housing based on bedrooms.
“That was a current snapshot of the housing market. It told us what we had,” Sam Filkins, vice president of the ADF, said of the study. “It did not tell us what we need.”
Sellers, under the guidance of Kenyon Professor Huachen Li, expanded his report in 2021. The updated report forecasts housing need and takes into account projected job growth, commuters, and the number of houses lost each year. It also shows the type of housing needed.
“We are well-equipped as a county with the plans and having a vision as opposed to a developer coming in and telling us what they want,” Filkins said. “Developers told us these plans are great, they love focused vision for the community, but we need to know if we build something, it will sell.”
Noting “there is not a silver bullet for the housing shortage,” Filkins said the Knox County Land Bank has to do its job getting vacant property back in use, municipalities have to create policies to encourage housing, and employers have to create jobs.
“All of this has to go together to make the whole system work,” he said.
The key words are available, affordable, and attractive.
Filkins noted the main reason for the updated study “is to see if what everybody thinks is true, is.”
“Anecdotally we know from Realtors and businesses, but we needed to put it into numbers. We need to showcase to builders that if you build it, there's a need,” he said.
To estimate the number of housing units needed over the next 10 years, Sellers looked at three factors:
• Job growth: The forecast for 2031 is 32,172 people employed in the county, an addition of 2,569. Using census data, historical trends, and information from the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), Sellers estimates 1,925 to 2,569 additional housing units are needed over the next 10 years, or 192-256 a year, based solely on projected job growth.
• Houses lost: Forty-one percent of Knox County homes are 60 years or older. Using information from the census and the Multiple Listing Service, the county loses an estimated 89 housing units a year.
• Commuters: Of those working in Knox County, 43.9% live outside the county, a number that has steadily risen since 2003. Estimates are that up to 1,746 people commute into the county who would otherwise live here if housing was available. Commuter housing needs account for up to 175.
Combining all three factors, the report states the county needs between 281 and 520 housing units each year for 10 years.
“We build 133 houses a year in the county,” Filkins said. “We need about 281 at minimum. So we're short 148 units. That's forecasting for low growth, just to fill in some of the jobs we have.
“We have more people that commute into the city than in the past. It's safe to assume those commuters can't find housing,” he continued. “Economically, it's better for the county if people live and work here.”
Of the 89 houses lost each year due to vacancy or demolition, Filkins said it's the land bank's job to bring those vacant homes back into use.
Filkins said the tricky part is if the county does not build the annual minimum of 281, the housing shortage is compounded. The unbuilt units are still needed, they just roll over into the units needed for the next year.
“At the rate we are going, we are not going to build it all in one year,” he said. “We need multiple projects like a subdivision, like the middle school, those types of large quantities of units.”
Attractive housing involves residential options as well as municipalities making the construction process easy for developers.
According to Filkins, 60% to 80% of new homes are bought by people who live in the community. Frequently the buyers are looking to downsize or upsize. If those looking to downsize have somewhere to go, their homes become available to others.
Filkins said the ADF knows two things anecdotally:
• A significant number of seniors are over-housed. They no longer can go up to the second floor or down to the basement, or they do not need as much room. However, there are no condominiums or individual living situations they can transition to.
• A fair number of people renting single-family houses would prefer not to have yard maintenance and other things that come with a house. Again, there are no apartment or condominium alternatives.
“Ideally, if we can get more multi-family units, that will reduce the demand for single-family homes, and maybe people will consider selling them vs. holding them as rentals,” Filkins said.
New homes increase the existing stock in the neighborhood. This usually makes existing homes more affordable.
“From a rural character standpoint, our housing needs will always be single-family, so the majority of homes we need are single-family,” Filkins said. “Multi-family can move the needle faster than single-family, and we have a couple of projects on that. That opens up single-family homes.
"If you are doing single-family builds on top of multi-family, they become available at the same time.”
In compiling the housing report, Sellers looked at households by age. Owner-occupied homes accounted for 64% and renters 36%. Sellers estimates that based on age, of the 2,810-5,200 housing units needed over the next 10 years, 1,798 to 3,328 should be owner-occupied units and 1,011 to 1,872 rentals.
Filkins recognizes the local desire to preserve farmland as new homes are built. He said the key is density.
“If you have estates that are two acres each and you have 500 homes, you're using up 1,000 acres of farmland,” he said. “If you want to do something similar to Gilchrist Estates, homes with some green space but R1 (single-family) zoning, that takes less land. Multi-family takes a lot less land.
“The city is still trying to push infill lots as part of the answer to relieving the burden of taking land,” Filkins added. “Since the CRA passed, I am aware of four new homes being built on infill lots.”
Filkins noted the 84 acres in the Beckett Annexation, formally known as Casey's Way LLC, is a good place for housing units. The city annexed the land in 2014 via a Type 2 Expedited Annexation.
He said that townships and villages can also work together to encourage and monitor development. Noting that the villages are undergoing rewrites of their zoning codes to make them more attuned to the wants of the current residents, Filkins said the focus is “to use zoning to make it easy for people to do what you want them to do vs. everything being a 'No.'
“If the village wants to have a say, it's better for them to set a vision to make that a reality.”
Virtually every discussion about housing includes the term affordability, but that can mean different things to different people. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) considers “affordable” to be spending 30% or less of income on housing.
Sellers found that Knox County has a lower share of residents — both renters and homeowners — paying 30% or more for housing compared to residents in Licking County, Ohio, and the United States. However, 39.2% of renters pay 30% or more.
Based on National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) numbers, the estimated mean renter wage in Knox County is $13.48. At that wage, renters can afford $701 a month.
A monthly rent of $701 covers a one-bedroom unit; it comes $6 shy of covering a two-bedroom unit. Two-bedroom units account for the largest share of renter-occupied units in Knox County.
According to Filkins, the county must approach affordability from different angles. He noted that a living wage is $14 to $15 an hour. At that level, a family can stay off public assistance.
“The ADF is focused on trying to bring jobs at that level,” he said. “We need to create good-paying jobs above that threshold.”
Mount Vernon's CRA can also help keep housing affordable.
“Builders have said that with the CRA, they can keep rates at a level that matches what Knox County can afford,” Filkins said. “It's something that happens behind the scenes, but it results in affordable rates for the renter.”
Relating to single-family homes, the CRA helps by giving property owners a tax abatement. Based on the city's zoning requirements of minimum square footage and lot size, Filkins said a new home would cost about $200,000, excluding the cost of land.
“You would still have that cost, but the CRA hopefully makes it a little more affordable because your property taxes are not as high,” he said.
The land bank also plays a role in affordability in its capacity as intermediary. By acquiring properties and reselling them to individuals who will rehab the houses, Filkins said it has a trickle-down effect on property movement, making more houses available to those who want to downsize or upsize.
“Something we can't predict is what competition will do to affordability,” he said. “As more multi-family units come on, it will create more supply. Some (landlords) might have to look at lowering their rent or decide to sell to someone who will live in the home full-time.”
Noting that the county has been in a landlord-friendly market for a long time, Filkins said he believes the county can bring on many multi-family developments and still have demand. Hopefully, he said, with lower rent rates.
“The reality is, aside from having someone come in and build low-income housing that is subsidized, that is the only way to ensure affordable rent,” he said. “We do not see a lot of interest in that here. That's why we have to attack it from different angles.”
The near future
“We have several possible housing projects that are in various stages of the process at this point,” Filkins said, adding the projects are mostly in Mount Vernon. “We anticipate some large projects going to municipal planning in 2022.”
The interested developers are nationally known builders who would contract with local contractors to build the houses. Filkins said there are also some local builders interested.
“With all of this, we don't want Knox County to lose its rural character,” he said. “Balancing need with character is a tricky thing. I think it's important for us to always be aware of that.”