A housing affordability crisis is impacting communities across the United States. Not enough homes are for sale or being built, keeping prices elevated. Average mortgage rates have more than doubled and further worsened affordability. And, according to Alex Horowitz, the director of Pew’s Housing Policy Initiative, the availability of mortgage credit tightened dramatically during the Great Recession, and it never bounced back. As a result, fewer people are eligible for homes.

The lack of housing has also caused a record number of renters to devote an excessive amount of income to housing, according to a Harvard University analysis. Affordable housing generally is defined as housing where the occupant pays no more than 30% of gross income for housing costs, including utilities. Rents have been rising rapidly, up about 30% in the U.S. since 2017, with median rents now hitting about $1,400 a month. A rising share of Americans say the availability of affordable housing is a major problem in their local community.

Preliminary results of a Marshall County Housing Gap Analysis show a shortage of 1,300 housing units. The local study is being conducted by Michael Fortunato of Creative Insight Community Development and is funded by an Indiana Health Department grant to United Way of Marshall County. Fortunato’s report shows a significant number of those over age 50 are aging in place therefore locking in the housing supply. While first time home buyers are typically within the 30-50 age range, the current barriers to home ownership mean more pressure from this age group on the need for rental properties. And, finally, Marshall County is unique in that a higher number of those age 30 and under are choosing to stay local. That’s great news for the workforce but also contributes to a higher need for rental units. Fortunato goes on to say that Marshall County’s greatest asset is that community leaders are working together to be proactive around these issues.

The 2019 Marshall County Stellar designation brought multiple housing projects to Marshall County including Riverside Commons in Plymouth and LaPaz. These projects and a similar one in Culver called The Paddocks, were awarded rental housing tax credits (RHTC) by the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA). The sale of the tax credits lowers the project carry cost allowing lower rents. Tenant rental rates are determined by the IHCDA based on household income as a percentage of median income in Marshall County.

Thanks to the Stellar designation and with support from the Indiana Health Department, Marshall County leaders were invited to the 2023 IHCDA Housing Institute to address critical housing needs in Plymouth. Only five Indiana communities received the invitation to an intensive training to help community partners navigate the complex process of developing affordable housing and reduce the time it takes to obtain funding. Members of the local team include representatives from Bowen Center, Bradley Company, City of Plymouth, Easterday Construction, Garden Court, SRKM Architecture, and United Way of Marshall County.

Over the past 18 months, the team has explored thirteen properties for the opportunity to best align with the IHCDA program criteria. In July, the Plymouth Planning Commission and City Council will consider rezoning of a property on Berkley Street. The project would bring approximately $11 million of outside, private investment and $2.5 million in State funds, for a total of over $13 million to Plymouth for 36 rental units in 4 buildings. No funds are being requested from the City of Plymouth for the build-out of this project. This property will remain on the tax roll and the construction of this project will pay sales tax. The current Plymouth ratio of rental housing tax credit units per 100 rental units is 8.4; well below the State average of 13.2.

The proposed site is an amenity rich location near a grocery store, pharmacy, faith-based, childcare, and school facilities including the Marshall County Career Innovation Center, and parks and recreational areas.

“United Way’s ALICE reports show that 12% of our Marshall County residents live in poverty but another 29% are living paycheck to paycheck. Affordable housing and childcare are significant challenges for many residents, including a high percentage of single parent and senior households,” said United Way Executive Director, Linda Yoder. ALICE is defined as Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed households. She noted a single mother with four children and earning $15 per hour or $31,200 annually would qualify for a 40% unit, meaning she would pay a maximum of $902 per month for a three-bedroom unit including utilities.

Mayor Robert Listenberger stated that the lack of affordable housing is a barrier for economic growth. “Our community needs housing for those in service industries. We need housing for hospital workers and first year teachers. This project is another step in solving housing problems that must be addressed.”

The Plymouth Planning Commission will consider the zoning request on Tuesday, July 9, at 7 pm. The Plymouth City Council will review the Planning Commission recommendation on Monday, July 22, at 6:30 pm.