We have a housing problem in our community – and we’re doing something about it.
In 2018, Housing Next commissioned a countywide Housing Needs Assessment to better understand how much housing was needed, at what price points those needs were most acute and where the needs were greatest. The data from the report told us Ottawa County would need an additional 7,500 apartments, homes and townhouses by the end of 2022 to keep up with the growing population and keep housing costs relatively stable.
Our team at Housing Next got to work. In partnership with local communities, business leaders and nonprofit partners, we pushed more housing at all price points and in all corners of the county. As a result of our work, we can proudly say we have helped to catalyze nearly 3,200 new apartments across the county and have seen nearly 3,000 new homes for sale in the same time period. With 16 months to go, we’re already more than 80% of the way toward that initial housing supply goal.
We’re not stopping there. Seeing a significant shift in market dynamics as a result of the pandemic, we commissioned an update to the Housing Needs Assessment this summer. The revised report – released in September – found the market had indeed shifted.
The 2021 Housing Needs Assessment Update shows that while we have made tremendous progress toward our 2022 goals, countywide housing needs have increased dramatically during the pandemic. The report identifies a need for roughly 15,000 additional housing units by 2025, with more than 11,300 of those units needed for new homeowners. The need among homeowners is significant among those seeking homes priced between $150,000 and $250,000.
The shift that occurred over the past two years was generated by several new tipping points in the market. The pandemic spurred more retirements, job changes and work-from-home opportunities than any other single event in recent history. Each of these shifts has been accompanied by both workers and retirees seeking new housing options.
One of the most stark data points from the updated study is “67% of the existing housing inventory that is available for purchase in the county is priced over $300,000. Meanwhile, only 31.7% of the households in the market have the incomes sufficient to afford housing at those prices.”
Ottawa County needs more housing for sale at prices below $250,000. With the current high cost of construction, the types of housing that can be built for these prices must be permitted on smaller lots or attached as townhomes and condominiums.
Another recent study we commissioned – this time conducted by Grand Valley State University’s Department of Economics – highlights the economic impact of affordable housing stock in our region. The report shows three-quarters of Ottawa County’s low-income households are “housing burdened,” which means they spend more than 30% of their pre-tax income on housing expenditures.
On average, these households annually spend $6,726 more than they should on housing costs for a countywide total of $76 million per year. This is money that otherwise would be invested back into the economy, as well as assist in reducing food insecurity, improving short-term health and increasing access to education among low-income households.
According to the study, for every $1 million reduction in housing burden, low-income households would spend approximately $160,000 more on food, $110,000 more on health care and $30,000 more on education. This spending, along with other additional spending, would result in $775,000 in new economic activity and support 9.4 jobs. If the entire housing burden was removed, the county would see $165.8 million in new economic activity, supporting more than 700 jobs.
While we have accomplished much over the past four years, there’s still a lot of work to be done – and we must continue to work toward a community that offers enough housing for all income levels for greater economic stability.