A new study could help shed light on challenges in the housing sector in Vigo County, Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley.

In Terre Haute, 41.4% of houses in the city were built before 1950, while just 22.5% throughout Indiana come from that era, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

And, 32.6% of Terre Haute’s houses were constructed before 1940, compared to 16.8% in Indiana and 12% nationally.

Additionally, since 2008, the city has demolished 835 properties, Mayor Duke Bennett said in his city update in February, with plans to demolish between 80 and 90 condemned properties using the city’s entitled funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Housing is an important part of attracting new residents while maintaining the existing population. That’s why Thrive West Central has launched a new Regional Housing Initiative study, conducted by Thrive staff.

The study will focus on housing issues in seven counties of West Central Indiana: Clay, Montgomery, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan, Vermillion, and Vigo.

“In the current economy, talent is everything. For our region to grow and prosper, we must attract and retain a skilled workforce to not only fill the jobs of today, but to create the jobs of the future,” Ryan Keller, executive director of Thrive West Central, said in a statement. “The availability of housing is an essential element for attracting and retaining talented individuals and families.”

The study aims to develop a clear understanding of the regional housing market and the factors impacting both supply and demand and to analyze key policy, infrastructure, or other constraints on housing. Using these findings, Thrive West Central will work with its partners to identify opportunities and tools for the development of new housing, upgrading of existing housing stock, and increased access and affordability of quality housing.

“Maybe one of the outcomes is that we have a real need for public-private partnerships for infrastructure costs for building new homes,” Keller said Tuesday. “A builder may say they a home that they could build for $200,000 but that now costs $217,000 to build and would have to sell it at $250,000 to make a profit, so maybe there is a program that can help with water hookups, sewer hookups and with broadband WiFi connections.”

Keller said the total population the Wabash Valley has been “largely stagnant for the past century, even as the population of the country has more than tripled. More concerning, the number of residents declined by 2.6% over the last 10 years, reversing slight gains from the 1990s and 2000s.

“The region must have an adequate supply of quality housing available at a range of price points and for those at all stages of life,” Keller said. “Instead, we have an aging housing stock and very little new construction. In just one example, from 2018 to 2020, an average of only 64 building permits were issued in Vigo County each year for new housing, down from an annual average of 275 permits in the five years prior,” he said.

Keller said the COVID-19 pandemic “exacerbated issues around the availability and affordability of housing. The median listing price per square foot has jumped by 23% since February 2020, and rents have increased accordingly, stretching tight budgets and putting home ownership out of reach for more and more residents or would-be residents.”

The Regional Housing Study is expected to be finalized by this fall, Keller said.
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