The construction and expansion of apartment complexes in Columbus has alleviated a lack of available units brought on by explosive job growth here in the past two years.
Citywide, apartment complexes with at least eight units have a vacancy rate of 7.5 percent, according to a recent survey by the Columbus Department of Community Development.
In total, 313 of 4,199 units at 43 apartment complexes were available for rent.
A healthy, functional vacancy rate for an apartment complex is deemed to be 5 percent by industry standards, said Carl Malysz, Community Development director.
He said via email that the private sector has responded to consumer demand, and he expects the overall vacancy rate to approach a stable 5 percent in the next year.
New units, such as The Cole, the apartment complex west of the Bartholomew County Courthouse, and the expansion of River Stone Apartments have helped, said Janet Brinkman, a real estate agent with Century 21 Breeden Realtors.
“It’s no longer a crisis,” she said.
River Stone Apartments, which had a waiting list earlier this year, now has about 20 vacancies among its 424 apartments on the city’s west side. Just a few months ago, the waiting list was near 90, and potential tenants were expected to have to wait about six months before they could move in.
Property Manager Angie Overton said that while the complex is pretty full, demand certainly has slowed compared to the year’s first half. She said that hiring by local employers seems to have slowed somewhat from its torrid pace over the past couple of years, and new apartment buildings have helped, too.
River Stone’s waiting list began to shorten when the complex’ sister property, Spruce Ridge, opened in the spring, Overton said.
River Stone offers 10 floor plans for up to three bedrooms, and prices range from $820 to $1,450.
Brad Grayson, president of the Bartholomew County Landlords Association, said fellow landlords are telling him they have vacancies.
“The housing availability situation has changed dramatically,” he said.
Grayson said that some apartments and rental homes are opening up because tenants who moved to Columbus a year ago during torrid hiring, especially at Cummins, began to purchase homes in the summer, in part because they feared that interest rates would rise toward the end of the year.
Tenants are having an easier time finding apartments and homes in the mid- to low-income ranges, Grayson said, though some tightness remains at the higher end, about $1,500 per month.
“Not a lot of availability there,” he said.
Grayson said local landlords are dealing less with a lack of available apartments and more with a lack of reliable tenants who have stable jobs with a decent income.
The survey indicates that there continues to be some challenges among modestly priced rentals, however, Grayson said.
“The affordable unit count and vacancy rate is another matter,” Malysz said.
Of the 1,115 units the city classified as affordable, 54 units, or 4.8 percent, were unoccupied.
Other housing data from the city’s consultant, SDG, indicates “demand for more safe, standard, decent, affordable housing, both for families with children and for seniors,” Malysz said.
He said the city’s survey excluded independent landlords who own rentals in the older central city, which includes about 35 percent of the city’s rental housing market.
“These units are very difficult to survey,” he said. “Anecdotally, anyone that drives or walks along the streets of the ‘Big Block’ will see many ‘for rent’ signs.”
Job growth, driven in large part by Cummins Inc., brought lots of newcomers to the area and squeezed the local housing market, reducing the number of available rental units.
Local employers provided a record 40,549 jobs in August, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, and employment has remained near that record through October.
In the summers in 2011 and 2012, the lack of vacant local rental apartments prompted Cummins to send internal emails and use internhousing.com to find employees and other Columbus residents with extra bedrooms to host interns. The company also considered running a daily shuttle bus from Bloomington and Greenwood to Columbus for interns who could not find housing locally.
When Lafayette residents Robert and Beth Schroeder decided to move to Columbus, they scoured listings to find rental apartments or homes in Columbus — with little luck.
Robert Schroeder said that he and his wife, who has accepted a position with Cummins Inc., figured that housing, especially temporary housing in Columbus, was expensive and in short supply.
Schroeder owns a small business that designs and crafts pet furniture. His wife will work for Cummins in information technology.
Cummins offered the couple a relocation package, through which they got in touch with Brinkman. She suggested Charwood Suites, and Schroeder said the couple plan to live there for a few months and then re-evaluate their housing situation.
Robert Schroeder said Charwood’s location, near the State Road 46 interchange for Interstate 65, will provide his wife with convenient access to the Cummins operations.
Eventually, though, the couple will look for a larger home, in part to house the pet-furniture business.
The Schroeders’ success in finding a place to live differs materially from what some renters experienced early this year, when most apartment complexes had waiting lists.
“It worked out rather well,” Robert Schroeder said.