Study: Vermillion has ‘virtually’ no housing market

By Travis Gulbrandson

That is one of the findings in a study commissioned by the city this summer, and which was presented to the city council in a special meeting Monday afternoon.

"You're going to have to act. You won't be able to keep doing the same thing and stay on the high road," said Mark Lautman, CEcD, CRE, who presented the findings to the council.

In July the city council pledged $35,000 toward the Workforce Housing Analysis, which was completed by Community Housing Laboratory of New Mexico, with $30,000 toward the study itself, plus an estimated $5,000 in reimbursable expenses.

Issues such as the attraction of talent, as well as the development of a strategy for improvement were among the components of the study.

Lautman said that because of the lack of a housing market, the community is suffering in several areas.

"You've lost a lot of economic opportunities in the past … but the real harm is, with shortage in supply you end up with prices going up," he said. "That costs everybody. It costs families, it costs the workers' productivity, it costs the employers' productivity. It has an impact on the community's economy.

"If you don't solve the workforce housing issue, all of your economic development efforts are going to be for naught," he said.

Lautman said that this is a problem he's seeing all across the country right now due to ongoing problems in the economy.

Lack of housing isn't the only problem, he said.

"Every employer we talked to complained bitterly about their inability to attract talent and keep talent," Lautman said. "They all said it was getting worse, and we think the labor climate in general is going to make that even tougher.

"So, it's the biggest threat to the community's economic well-being and its ability to maintain its character and improve over the next couple of decades," he said.

The report features a number of recommendations which advance toward solving the problem.

The first of these is getting a workforce housing market started with the aid of a developer "who is already invested in a land position in the community to start a homebuilding program immediately."

Lautman also suggested a "land bank program" to the council members.

According to the report, a local public/private land banking entity would "control, plan, entitle and market the first 200 to 400 acres of workforce housing lot inventory, including the land parcel owned by the production builder/developer."

"You're going to have to make this market," Lautman said.

The report also suggests an Integrated Community Advancement Program (ICAP) be designed and developed that would elevate and integrate community civic program efforts in the areas of economic development, community development, workforce housing and talent attraction.

Recommendations for projects and programs for each of the four areas were provided in the report, as well.

"The ICAP should serve as the community's central clearinghouse for prioritizing, planning, managing and measuring of discretionary investment in areas strategic to the advancement of the community," the report said.

Lautman said several different committees can be established to do the planning for each specific area of the ICAP.

"You're going to want to show employers that you've actually got a plan and you're executing it," he said. "The second you resolve to do this, you've changed your position in the market. You go from a community that doesn't have a plan, hasn't been building houses up until now, probably never will, to, 'Here's a place that's moving forward.'"

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