HAND conference examines affordable housing

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Whitestown Town Manager Dax Norton spoke at Noblesville-based Housing and Neighborhood Development’s fourth annual suburban housing conference Sept. 21 at the Cambria Hotel in Westfield.

Whitestown Town Manager Dax Norton speaks at the Housing and Neighborhood Development fourth annual suburban housing conference Sept. 21 at Cambria Hotel in Westfield. (Photo by Mark Ambrogi)

Last month, HAND Inc. invested more than $2 million to acquire and renovate 17 duplexes in Lebanon, which it will maintain as affordable apartments for low-income residents. The acquisition was its first outside of Hamilton County.

Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness also spoke at the conference, noting issues with retaining workers due to the cost of living in Fishers. Fadness said an integrated housing policy is necessary for the long-term sustainability of a community.

Norton discussed similar issues in Whitestown, where the population was 514  in 1995. In 2018, Norton said the population has risen to 9,700 people.

“We’ve developed on the backs of industry that cannot find workers in the community where their industry is built,” Norton said. “It’s crazy.”

Norton said the town subsidized some of the infrastructure for a bus line to shuttle workers from Marion County to Boone County, but now Marion County cannot find workers.

“Our redevelopment commission was asked to subsidize a bus to get workers from Marion County to Boone County, to Whitestown, specifically,” Norton said. “We’ve given a tax abatement to said company (for) millions of dollars.”

Norton discussed how many oppose workforce housing because of concerns about lowering home values.

“Maybe the suburban communities help Indianapolis rebuild its product,” Norton said. “A strong Indianapolis is a strong central Indiana, a strong Whitestown, a strong Fishers, a strong Carmel and a strong Whitestown.”

Norton said housing issues are tricky because suburbs have to be careful not to grow so much that Indianapolis starts to fail.

“You can’t be a suburb of nothing,” Norton said. “We can’t (have) Indianapolis and its housing projects die.”

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