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Our city can be described as an economic boomtown. Led by a revival in automotive manufacturing, our GDP grew nearly 10 percent last year, making Columbus the fifth-fastest-growing economy of the nation’s nearly 400 metro areas. As a result, our employers have recently created thousands of jobs. Employment in Columbus just hit an all-time high, eclipsing the previous record of more than 15 years.
This exceptional growth is a great blessing and cause for celebration. But it does come with natural growing pains, most notably a strain on housing availability and affordability.
As commercial lending thaws, the free market is correcting the shortage of market-rate housing, particularly for rental units where demand has been the highest.
Since 2010, more than 950 apartments have been completed or approved for construction. This represents nearly double the number of apartments added over the prior 20-year period from 1990 to 2010. Most of our local landlords now report an increase in vacancies.
Single-family home construction is accelerating also with a doubling of annual building permits from the recession low in 2009.
This increase in market-rate housing is a solid first step toward solving our housing needs and providing relief to home pricing pressures at all levels.
Columbus also has a solid foundation of government-subsidized rental units for those with low incomes. Currently, over 1,600 rentals, or about 20 percent, of our city’s total rental units are subsidized, meaning they are receiving some manner of federal government tax dollar assistance.
In terms of housing affordability, renters face the greatest barriers. They earn on average considerably less than homeowners, and a sizable portion of our renters are low-income.
Housing is considered affordable when it costs no more than 30 percent of a household’s annual gross income. Those who pay more are more likely to struggle to afford other necessities like food, clothing and health care, or are doubled up in overcrowded conditions. Those spending 50 percent or more of their gross incomes on housing are considered severely cost-burdened.
By these measures, our rental housing affordability is significantly better than most communities in the state and nation.
Forty percent of Columbus renters are paying 30 percent or more of their gross income on rent, compared to 51 percent of renters statewide and 53 percent nationwide. About 18 percent of Columbus renters are spending 50 percent or more of their gross income on rent, compared to 26 percent for Indiana and 27 percent nationwide.
While housing availability is significantly improving and we are relatively better off in terms of housing affordability, we’re Columbus, and we aim even higher. An ambitious goal of Advance Columbus, our communitywide strategic plan, is to ensure safe and affordable housing in attractive and proud neighborhoods for all.
Toward this end, the Mayor’s Advisory Council on Safe and Affordable Housing is currently conducting a housing needs assessment to quantify and identify root causes for the gaps in housing supply and demand for residents of all income levels, life stages and abilities. The assessment is serving as the basis for a comprehensive housing strategy to increase the development of quality housing across the spectrum, as well as the redevelopment of substandard housing.
In addition to increasing the supply of quality housing, our affordable housing strategy must also decrease the demand for subsidized housing. Residents able to work must have achievable pathways to financial self-sufficiency. In addition to our education and workforce development efforts, another long-term goal of Advance Columbus is to provide additional tools for those with very low incomes to find financial stability and income mobility.
By working together and employing both supply-side and demand-side approaches, we can make tremendous progress toward our ambitious goal of decent, safe and affordable housing for all.
Kristen Brown is the mayor of Columbus. She can be reached at email@example.com or 376-2500.
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