City pledges $35,000 toward housing study

The Vermillion City Council pledged $35,000 toward the completion of a housing study at its regular meeting last week.

The Workforce Housing Analysis will be completed by Community Housing Laboratory (CHLab) of New Mexico at the cost of $30,000, plus an estimated $5,000 in reimbursable expenses.

The amount will be taken from the city's "Bed, Booze and Board" fund.

VCDC Executive Director Steve Howe told council members that while community members have been very responsive to rental properties such as apartments, there continues to be a need for single-family housing.

"We're not seeing any signs that the … housing shortages are being resolved," Howe said. "It's been recently exacerbated by some good news – the job growth that we've had – which has made us more dependent on a commuter workforce, as workers are not finding places in Vermillion to live."

Howe said there were only three new housing permits last year, and so far "just a couple" of new houses are being built this year.

According to the proposal submitted to the council members, CHLab will assess existing and future housing needs in terms of availability and affordability, as well as the ability of the community to meet potential growth.

"They're going to do interviews with the (residents), the city, the county, the employers and so forth to try and get a sense of what really is the demand out there," Howe said.

Earlier this year the VCDC conducted its own survey of the commuter population to better understand why they chose not to live in Vermillion.

That information was then given to the Advisory Governance Council of Vermillion Now! and used for the preparation of their own five-year community advancement plan.

The main objective outlined was to increase the amount of housing units by 260, at the rate of 52 per year. Other objectives included adding 430 new jobs, creating new and enhancing existing amenities, and to create a marketing plan to recruit new residents to the region.

"The plan that you see here is designated as a starting point," Howe said. "It provides manageable and attainable goals for the community, and the hope is that it will serve as a launching pad for new housing development efforts as well as guide the planning for future job growth and amenities and to keep Vermillion a viable, attractive place to move and stay."

The CHLab study and the Vermillion Now! plan were designed to work together.

"The (CHLab) study provider was asked to customize the proposal based on the strategic plan that was provided," Howe said.

Council member Steve Ward of the Southeast Ward moved in favor of funding the study through BBB funds.

"I think we need to take a serious look at what our situation is," Ward said. "We all have stories about what's available and what isn't … but we haven't really sat down and done a good study of what Vermillion needs for its housing. We haven't really even determined how big we want Vermillion to be. We all want growth, but how much growth?

"So, I think this study might be able to tell us a little bit about how much we would be able to sustain reasonably and maintain the character that we all love about Vermillion," he said.

John Grayson of the Central Ward agreed, saying, "Policy is often made based on ideology, anecdote and research, and this gives us an opportunity to do good third-party, unbiased research. It will enable us to contribute meaningful information to the city's over-arching strategic plan that will help us understand what our competitive advantages or disadvantages may be."

Howe said that the CHLab study and the Vermillion Now! plan won't provide all the answers, but added that they are "a start."

"It's an important first step in a collaborative effort to make Vermillion the best place it can be," he said.

CHLab can begin the study as early as July 16, and complete it by the end of August, Howe said.

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