Economic growth in Delaware County and nine other central Ohio counties will depend on producing housing -- particularly, affordable housing -- at a rate needed to meet future demand, according to a report commissioned by the Building Industry Association of Central Ohio.

BIA Executive Director Jon Melchi on March 12 said the analysis, prepared by Vogt Strategic Insights, Dublin, is being shared with municipalities in the counties, including the city of Delaware.

Nathan T. Young, a partner with Vogt, said the 10 counties make up the Columbus Metropolitan Statistical Area, a geographic designation used by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The 114-page report is designed to estimate new housing needs based on projected job growth through 2050.

Among its findings, the analysis said Delaware County had about 103,174 jobs in 2017 and predicts that number could increase to anywhere from 204,438 to 362,413 jobs by 2050. The lower number represents annual growth of 2 percent and the higher number 3.8 percent.

The county would have to increase its annual number of housing permits, averaging 1,615 from 1990 to 2017, to 3,165 annually for 2 percent growth and 8,101 annually for 3.8 percent growth, according to the analysis.

From 2012-17, the report says, Delaware County's home prices increased 4.58 percent while income increased 1.66 percent, with roughly similar disparities in the other counties.

If the trend continues, the report says, the result will "further exacerbate affordability housing challenges ... and will limit the Columbus market from realizing job-growth projections."

Melchi, however, said he doesn't expect immediate changes to municipal policies based on the study.

"When you talk about anything codified, you're talking about something built over time," he said. "Taking a new look at those processes is not an easy task. We want to be part of that process."

Young said the conclusions of the analysis are similar to those reached by a recent Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission study that looked at seven counties, including Delaware and Franklin.

"It's not our task to get into political economic nuances," he said.

"We hope various community leaders will recognize this is a problem and hopefully work together for higher density and reduced impact fees," he said, which would reduce housing costs.

Columbus lost out on a $5 billion Amazon headquarters, he said, because the area lacked adequate housing stock and a strategy to meet housing demand.

Melchi said Delaware is in the process of revamping its comprehensive plan, "which seems to us an appropriate time for the city to take a look at" the issues.

Delaware City Planner Dave Efland said that is happening as City Council discussed the report March 4.

Efland said the comprehensive plan's steering committee has been discussing some of the themes in the BIA report, which he said contains "good data and good information ... the steering committee needs to take into account."

He said the American Planning Association's draft housing guide and annual Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies reports contain themes that tie in with the BIA report.

Councilwoman Lisa Keller said the study contained excellent work, but she also expressed skepticism.

"People who build houses are coming and telling us we need to build more and we need to build them faster. ... I need a little more evidence than just that," she said. "I'd like some more info about our particular city."

The city has consultants who can "give us a more Delaware-specific look at the housing market," Efland said.

City Economic Development Director Sean Hughes described issues involving housing and employment during the March 4 meeting.

The job-search website Indeed.com, he said, shows that at any given time 500 to 1,400 jobs are open in the city. That would represent 2 percent to 6 percent of all city jobs, which he called a serious problem.

He said 45 percent of what he called the city's 55 core industry employers, and 100 percent of its restaurant and retail employers, have voiced serious concerns about the workforce housing situation.

The average one-bedroom apartment in Delaware costs $705 a month, and the average two-bedroom apartment is $928 a month, Hughes said. Rents are increasing at twice the rate of income, he said.

Many Delaware employers pay $13 an hour, he said. Following the rule that only 30 percent of monthly income should be spent on housing, such workers can afford only $676 a month, he said.

Warehouse workers in the city average $32,800 annual income -- not enough for a two-bedroom apartment, Hughes said. Averaging about $39,000 a year, other workers such as personal-care service and production workers earn just enough for a two-bedroom apartment, he said.

Eighty percent of Delaware's blue-collar employees live outside the city, and 80 percent of its white-collar residents work outside the city, he said.

If a new restaurant opened in Delaware and needed 45 employees, he said, it would be "nearly impossible" to find them among Delaware residents.

Between fiscal years 2014-18, People in Need has provided assistance to help 773 local families avoid eviction, PIN Executive Director Randy Bournique said March 12.

Most of those people are working but at lower wages or without job benefits, he said.

They face "an inability to create a cushion for when things happen in life," Bournique said. "When a furnace or car breaks down, (they) have to rob Peter to pay Paul to get whatever's broken fixed. ... It's not unique to Delaware. Everywhere, people are starting to understand affordable housing is an issue."

The comprehensive plan's steering committee began its work, which is scheduled to last a year, in June 2018.

The city has said the plan is designed "to establish a vision and policies for how and where the city will grow and change over the next decades."

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