Bottle Works Lofts in the former Coca-Cola bottling plant on Pontiac Street in Fort Wayne will have a grand opening May 13. Check back here and in May 17’s Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly for details.
Contributed  photo
Bottle Works Lofts in the former Coca-Cola bottling plant on Pontiac Street in Fort Wayne will have a grand opening May 13. Check back here and in May 17’s Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly for details. Contributed photo
FORT WAYNE — Over the next five years, counties in northeast Indiana could support the development of nearly 16,000 new housing units, said a study commissioned by groups in the region.

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, the Home Builders Association of Fort Wayne, Inc. and the UPSTAR Upstate Alliance of REALTORS worked with Zimmerman/Volk Associates, Inc. to publish an analysis of residential market potential for 10 counties in northeast Indiana. The entities funded the study.

The purpose of the study was to determine the market potential for new rental and for-sale housing units that could be developed within 10 of the 11 counties of the northeast Indiana region over the next five years. The 10 counties include Adams, DeKalb, Huntington, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wabash, Wells and Whitley. Allen County was excluded because it is the home of Fort Wayne, the second-largest city in Indiana, and a market unto itself.

On May 13, one of Fort Wayne’s newest housing projects, the conversion of the former Coca-Cola bottling plant at 1631 E. Pontiac St. into Bottle Works Lofts, will have a grand opening. Check back Monday for more details.

As northeast Indiana works to attract and retain talent and grow the region’s population to 1 million residents by 2030 as part of the Vision 2030 initiative, available housing is a critical factor in relocation and retention decisions, a news release from the partnership said.

The study found the region could potentially absorb 8,775 to 10,975 new rental units, 765 to 955 new townhouses, and 2,645 to 3,965 new detached houses — a total of 12,185 to 15,895 new housing units over five years.

Michael Galbraith, director of the Road to One Million at the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, said he hears consistently from regional employers, local economic developers and elected officials outside of Allen County that the housing market is in a critical upside-down state.

“For a number of years, and particularly after the recession that started in 2008, the 10 counties outside of Allen haven’t had enough new houses, town homes and apartments built to attract new residents to their cities and towns. Not only that, but the rehab efforts seen in places like downtown Fort Wayne and the West Central neighborhood haven’t yet occurred in large measure in our rural counties. This lack of growth has kept the value of existing houses low while the cost of constructing new houses continues to rise,” Galbraith said.

Galbraith said this situation creates a scarcity of quality housing that drives potential new employees away from accepting good jobs at northeast Indiana businesses, exacerbating the region’s critical labor challenges.

In-demand housing

Beth Walker, board president of Upstate Alliance of REALTORS, said understanding the issues, then defining and measuring the challenges, are the first steps to addressing housing needs.

“Realtors can best serve the community by understanding the region’s market. This housing study is not only critical in forecasting future growth and investment in these 10 counties, but also in preparing our membership for a potential shift in housing availability,” Walker said.

The study presents a clear picture of housing needs in the region, with 52% of the need in multi-family rental housing and nearly 40% in single-family detached housing.

Less in-demand are multi-family for-sale units like condominiums, representing less than 3% and single-family attached units like townhouses or duplexes comprising 6% of the need.

The analysis compared households by life stages to better understand housing opportunities, and the following groups make up a percentage of the total residential market potential:

• Traditional and non-traditional families account for 45% of the market potential

• Younger singles and childless couples account for 31% of the market potential

• Empty nesters and retirees account for 24% of the market potential

• For low-income households, a significant number of the proposed rental market opportunities are designed to correspond to the annual incomes of entry- and lower-level workers in the manufacturing industry, where hourly wages for those workers range between $13 and $20 per hour.

Identifying housing type

Beth Johnson, executive director at the Home Builders Association of Fort Wayne Inc. noted that within their six-county jurisdiction there were more than 1,400 single-family permits pulled in 2018; 411 of those were in Adams, DeKalb, Huntington, Wells and Whitley counties.

“With the potential for 12,000 to 15,000 new housing units in the 10-county region over the next five years, the findings of this study will help area builders and developers project their paths for investment and growth in the noted housing markets and meet the needs of the local community. The HBA’s mission is to promote the building industry and our members while providing the tools they need to succeed. We are committed to projects that help improve the community in which we live, work and play,” said Johnson.

The study identified types of housing appropriate for northeast Indiana, including: mansion apartment buildings, courtyard apartments, loft apartments, mixed-use apartment buildings, microunits, soft lofts apartments and apartments above retail.

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