Housing: An Overlooked Solution Puzzle Piece

Aug 24, 2023News

Rick Dunlop
Del-Co Water Company, Inc. 

The word is out Central Ohio is a wonderful place to live and work. While job opportunities are prevalent, the housing market is a challenge. The headlines are focused on new builds and further directed at greenspace and farmland depletion, zoning, density, affordability, transportation, congestion, the impact on schools, and concerns about community identity. New builds are vital, but the housing puzzle has an overlooked solution piece with abandoned and underutilized property. Recent Mid-Ohio Region Planning Commission (MORPC) projections can be used for scoping purposes. According to MORPC, the Central Ohio population and housing stock will increase more than 700,000 and 264,000, respectively, by 2050. The housing growth, however, provides no guarantee that the composition of new housing stock will meet the 2050 housing needs.

The MORPC footprint contains more than 70,000 (7.7%) housing unit vacancies. Some are temporary timing differences, but a substantial volume is persistently vacant brownfield-like opportunities. There is broad appreciation for the energy and focus on the landbank market. With more than 950,000 occupied dwellings today, we know the landbank eligible volume will increase by 2050 just because the housing base is both growing and aging. The opportunity: expand and invest further in landbank activity because most of these vacant properties have utilities and every required zoning approval. We can raze more housing to create space to raise more housing. In parallel, greyfields are overlooked and underutilized properties that with the right investment can be repurposed for housing. Think of the storage space above a storefront that once was an apartment. It may come with zoning and ADA access challenges, but the cost of remodeling can beat starting from nothing.

Residential structures never last forever as shown by every homeowner’s “weekend project” list. The pace of more substantive remodeling and upgrades will continue but should be energized because the demand will increase rapidly. Approximately 70%-80% of 2050 housing stock already exists today and it will be three decades older. Expanding and promoting the Community Reinvestment Area (CRA) economic development tool (ORC 3735.65-70) will inspire property owners to modernize property keeping it from back-sliding to vacancy status. Some may even consider adding Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) to unlock housing value. Investopedia defines an ADU as “a secondary house or apartment that shares the building lot of a larger, primary home. The unit cannot be bought or sold separately, but they are often used to provide additional income through rent.” Los Angeles and Toronto created ADU zoning regulations to encourage use that fits community guidelines and to manage their tax base.

A vibrant housing market is foundational to economic development and often overlooked until it becomes an obstacle to growth. We certainly need more housing units in Central Ohio and the most visible focus will always be on new construction. However, more emphasis on existing underutilized housing stock means removing blight, reinstating or replacing dilapidated property, curtailing greenspace conversion, and revitalizing neighborhoods. All outcomes we can certainly appreciate.

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