ANGOLA — If you ask Laurie Volk of Zimmerman/Volk Associates, Clinton, New Jersey, there is a lot of market potential in Steuben County for housing.

A housing strategy commissioned in 2019 by the Steuben County Economic Development Corp. through HPG Network, Fort Wayne, was designed to not only look at housing needs but to be implementable in all areas of Steuben County, not just one specific municipality.

A meeting was held Friday on the video platform Zoom with the SCEDC, representatives from HPG, Volk and several area municipalities to discuss more about the strategy.

“The strategy is a collaborative process,” said Ryan Chasey, president of HPG Network. “It’s designed to be implementable. We want to provide information that each town and county can choose to take action on.”

The strategy, Chasey continued to say, was built on Volk’s work.

Volk’s company has been doing market studies since 1988 and focuses on looking at market potential more than market demand.

“It is important to provide housing not only for new households but also for those that already live here, to give them options as well,” said Volk. “Fifty-seven percent of the potential housing market already lives inside Steuben County.”

Steuben County households

The methodology used by Volk shows that households by life stage in Steuben County currently include 47% retirees or empty nesters, 38% traditional or non-traditional families and another 15% is young singles or young couples.

“That tells me there is some of a problem because you need a higher percentage of younger people as the future of your county,” she said.

In an overview of the county from 2019, Volk said the population was sitting around 34,540 people, with 65% of the county living in one and two person households.

Single family detached houses made up 77% of the housing style in the county, which she said is typical of Midwestern cities and towns.

Potential

Volk said the methodology used shows more than 2,000 households of all income levels and life stages have the potential to move into or within Steuben County over the next few years.

Though the housing preferences still lean toward detached single-family homes at 48%, Volk said housing preference strongly favor rental units also, at 36%.

“That is considerably higher than you have available here right now,” she said.

Going with households with income levels above 60% area median income, Volk said the bulk of the market in Steuben County can afford rentals around $750-$1,200 per month with some being able to afford higher.

Though the preference for condominium housing is lower, it is still there, with the majority of incomes above 60% AMI being able to afford around $100,000-$200,000, which she said can make for some nice condos.

Townhouse buyers with incomes at or above 60% AMI, per Volk’s projection, can afford $100,000-$150,000, with some able to go up to the $250,000 range, at the high end.

The primary market for detached house buyers shows prices around $100,000-$200,000.

Housing price points

Not all areas in the county were optimal for all types of housing.

Volk presented optimum market position for Angola, Hamilton, Fremont, Hudson and Orland showing price points and housing sizes for reference.

In Angola, apartment rents from $650-$1,200 per month were recommended with sizes from 450-950 square feet.

As one of the only municipalities recommended for condo-style housing, price points for Angola area condos ranged from $110,000-$160,000 suggested, with size from 750-1,100 square feet.

Pricing on townhouses or rowhouses ranged from $175,000-$195,000 for homes ranging from 1,200-1,350 square feet.

The highest price for Angola was detached housing, with a range from $200,000 to $245,000 for homes ranging from 1,350-1,700 square feet.

Apartment rental was slightly higher for Fremont, with a range from $750-$1,450 per month for apartments ranging from 550 square feet to 1,250 square feet.

“We wouldn’t advise condos in Fremont,” said Volk. “But, any developers that want to try it, I would wish them good luck.”

Townhouses were, however, a suggestion for Fremont with prices from $165,000-$180,000 for homes ranging from 1,100-1,250 square feet.

The detached housing price was lower for Fremont than Angola’s, with detached housing pricing suggested from $165,000-$200,000 for homes ranging from 1,300-1,650 square feet.

The highest housing costs were for Hamilton sites, with apartments ranging from $1,250-$1,800 per month for units between 850-1,350 square feet.

“Hamilton is a market with older households and fewer families,” said Volk. “Rental apartments you will see are geared to older couples or small families and the same applies with townhouses and detatched houses.”

She called the Hamilton market a “sizeable move-down market” with rent and purchase prices reflecting that.

Townhouses were suggested at $185,000-$215,000 for homes ranging from 1,250-1,500 square feet and detached housing prices from $210,000-$265,000 for houses from 1,400-1,800 square feet.

Apartments and detached houses were both recommended for Hudson with apartment rental for 600-1,200 square foot units ranging from $750-$1,450 per month.

Home prices were recommended at $175,000-$225,000 for homes that varied from 1,250-1,650 square feet.

Like Hudson, Orland was also recommended houses and apartments.

Apartment rent was suggested at $1,150-$1,550 per month for 900-1,300 square feet and home prices were recommended from $150,000-$225,000 for houses anywhere from 1,000 square feet to 1,600 square feet.

Affordability

A question posed by Crystal Van Pelt of the Purdue Extension Steuben County focused on pricing due to the disconnect between what charts showed people could afford and what was suggested in each municipality, especially for detached homes.

“We saw on the charts of what people can afford that 64% can only afford $100,000-$200,000 detached houses. Why should we build $200,000-$245,000 detached houses if only 36% can afford them?” she asked.

Volk said one of the gaps is that many fall into the affordable workforce household category and the entry-level market rate, so that was focused on.

“There are developers that don’t have a product they can build for that, but they can look at a study and figure out that 36% can do more,” she said. “It doesn’t preclude those units, but we were trying to focus on where the gaps are in your housing stock.”

Cities need to diversify their housing stock continually in order to keep the population growing, Volk said. Problems arise when there is no new development as a lot of the annual potential market wants brand new housing, not existing housing, regardless of its charm.

If new housing isn’t provided for people moving into the county or for those moving from within, Volk said people start looking elsewhere or leave.

Mayor Richard Hickman said what is selling, from what he sees, is homes in the community in the $225,000-$275,000.

“They’re selling as fast as we can build them,” he said. “We can’t keep up.”

Chasey said the area already has great momentum going.

“Capture that and align with Laurie’s data and see where you’re filling gaps and where its falling short,” he said.

Hamilton Town Manager Brent Shull said Hamilton is already working on additional housing projects that fall similarly into what was brought up during the strategy talk Friday.

“There is absolutely no reason with our situations that our communities can’t be winners,” said Hickman. “We just need the courage to keep moving forward in an intellectual way.”

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