A new report raises concerns that central Ohio is not building enough housing, claiming it is currently adding 6,000 too few housing units each year to meet projected demand.
Columbus will need 14,000 new housing units annually to support its increasing population, but is currently building only 8,000 units, according to a housing study recently published by the Building Industry Association (BIA) of central Ohio. The study was prepared by local real estate market research firm Vogt Strategic Insights (VSI) and presented during a panel discussion at the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s weekly luncheon on Dec. 12.
One of the major implications of underbuilding highlighted during the event was that housing demand is expected to exceed supply, which could further drive up housing costs.
“Density doesn’t mean a lack of quality,” said panelist Bob Schottenstein, president and CEO of M/I Homes. “The lack of density just means more expensive.”
A potential price increase is a real issue for central Ohio, which has seen sharp increases in housing costs in recent years. From 2010 to 2017, home prices rose five times faster than median household income and rent two times faster, the study revealed.
“The average density in Grandview is over four units per acre,” said Schottenstein. “The average density in greater central Ohio is less than two. So we’ve become the side yard capital of the United States.”
The idea that higher density could mean lower housing prices and more affordable housing has been catching on recently. Earlier this month, Minneapolis did away with single-family zoning and is believed to be the first major city in the U.S. to do it. Now, rather than lots being restricted to single dwellings, three dwellings are permitted. Certain requirements, like including parking on the lot, have also been nixed to make this possible.
But some opponents of Minneapolis’ plan argue that getting rid of single-family zoning could actually hurt housing affordability. Minneapolis for Everyone claimed that developers could not produce profitable, affordable housing with the current costs of construction without government assistance. That means, they argue, that new constructions will be for middle- and higher-income residents and could price lower income residents out. Neither the report nor the presentation of the report addressed this issue in Columbus.
According to the report, Columbus is lagging behind in its building permit activity compared to Austin, Charlotte and Nashville. However, The Columbus Dispatch has pointed out that Columbus isn’t falling as far behind when compared to regional cities like Indianapolis or Cincinnati.
Some panelists said they believe the shortage of building permits is driving the city’s underbuilding, and policies that limit the number of building permits and restrict dense development are to blame.
One panelist, Sandy Doyle Ahern, president of EMH&T, one of Ohio’s largest professional engineering and survey firms, pointed out that zoning laws are made at the municipal level, leaving central Ohio with a patchwork of different zoning policies that aren’t consistent.
“The City of Columbus only controls so much,” said Ahern during the event. “And many other smaller municipalities in central Ohio would also have to change their policies in order to fix the issue.”
She and an audience member at the luncheon said they believe we should be establishing a regional zoning body that can create policies based upon a strategy for the entire region.
“We should look at convening a forum for the municipalities, because it’s not a Columbus problem. It’s a central Ohio problem,” Ahern said.
Jon Melchi, Executive Director of the BIA, said he thinks the key lies in getting communities to be more comfortable with increased density, which means shedding their NIMBYism (“Not In My Back Yard”) and viewing developers as critical partners in building communities.
“I don’t see how not letting people come into a community is somehow additive,” Melchi explained. “This ‘protect what you have’ thing … it doesn’t seem to be very neighborly, if you will. We need to do a better job of talking about the additive nature of home building and development.”
Schottenstein followed up Melchi’s comments with a warning.
“The story I don’t think is well told is the story of the continuation of these policies in greater central Ohio,” he said. “If we stay on this course, we’re going to wake up one day and not particularly care for what we see.”