For many residents, Hamilton County is a fun place to live, work and play. But not everyone who works in the county can afford to live there.
The Noblesville-based Hamilton County Area Neighborhood Development Inc. recently held six public input sessions to update Hamilton County’s housing strategy. The Westfield session took place July 10, and residents discussed affordability and access to affordability within the city. Westfield Washington Township Trustee Danielle Carey Tolan was one of the attendees. She often assists residents struggling to pay their rent.
“We are an emergency relief situation, so if somebody comes in needing utility or rent assistance because of an emergency situation, whether that’s a lost job or unexpected medical bills or transportation issues, they come in and apply for assistance,” Carey Tolan said.
The township spent more than $14,000 in assistance for rent and utilities in June alone. Last year, the township only spent $4,000 in rent and utility assistance in June.
“We are definitely seeing an increase,” Carey Tolan said. “Our numbers are very much like the numbers back in the Recession. The requests, especially when due to rent and housing, they could be asking for $1,800 for their two-bedroom apartment.”
Affordability is defined as paying 30 percent of income toward housing and utilities. Households paying more than 30 percent are considered “housing-cost burdened.” HAND Executive Director Jennifer Miller said between 2000 and 2015, household incomes increased 21 percent but rents increased 51 percent.
Of the 14 apartment complexes in Westfield, only five offer one-bedroom units in the $600 per-month range. They are Casey Acres, Carmel Landings, Hamilton Square, Commons of Spring Mill and North Union Apartments. Although those options are available, Carey Tolan said even they aren’t always affordable for residents.
“There’s a single mom with five kids and she’s working, but she can’t afford Casey Acres,” Carey Tolan said. “So, if something happens in life, like a flat tire, for instance, she comes in (to the township).”
Carey Tolan also said the majority of people who seek assistance from the township have a mental health issue.
“We need to determine what affordable housing in Westfield truly is and where it can fit into our community because it can fit in,” she said.
Local job shortages, specifically within the hospitality industry, such as hotels and restaurants, could be because of the affordable housing issue, Carey Tolan said. Westfield resident and local real estate broker Curt Whitesell share that opinion.
“Every single restaurant has a staffing problem in Westfield, and every single entry-level position is not filled,” Whitesell said during the HAND public input session. “We want to be a hospitality corridor, but every single restaurant says, ‘I’m not going to be able to staff my restaurant, and the primary reason is because the employees can’t live here.’”
A Taco Bell supervisor declined comment to Current, but Carey Tolan said many employers are continuously raising their starting wages because filling jobs is difficult.
However, entry-level employees aren’t the only citizens who are struggling to afford housing in Westfield. Empty-nesters planning to downsize and millennials straight out of college encounter similar issues.
“I have a 25-year-old who works for the schools and is looking for housing but can’t afford to move out,” public input attendee Stacy London said. “We have a rental house behind us that has four families living in it. You have people who can’t afford the housing, so they’re going to go into one home together, and that’s not a safe situation.”
A number of Casey Acres residents told Current they wanted to move into a house this year but were unable to find affordable housing in the area and must remain at the apartment complex for another year.
Consequently, high home prices coupled with unaffordable rents are deterring entry-level position employees from living within the city.
“There’s always a desire to see more expensive homes and less of them, and not more affordable homes and more of them,” said Jon Dobosiewicz, a local land-use professional, during the public input meeting. “The public side of development is they want fewer homes at a higher price. I’ve never been to a plan commission meeting where they have said, ‘You need to have more houses and less expensive.’ It’s something we are missing. We are not providing (affordable housing) and recognizing as a community we need to provide it.”
Renting in Hamilton County By the Numbers
- 74 – The number of hours a minimum-wage employee has to work per week to afford a one-bedroom apartment in Hamilton County at market rent.
- $696 – Market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Hamilton County.
- $14.86 – Estimated renter wage in Hamilton County.
- $377 – Rent affordable at full-time job with minimum wage.
Source: National Low-Income Housing Coalition 2018 annual report
Why is affordable housing a conversation topic now?
Housing and Neighborhood Development, Inc. conducted six public input sessions to learn more about local housing affordability and create and updated housing assessment for the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, which must be done every five years.
For those interested in learning more, the 2018 Housing Conference is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 21 at the Cambria Hotel in Westfield. Admission is $65. For more, visit handincorporated.org.