By Rob Moore
Columbus has enjoyed relatively cheap housing compared to other large metropolitan areas in the country.
American Community Survey data tells us that the average apartment in Columbus costs $916, which means housing is cheaper in Columbus than all but 13 of the top 50 metropolitan areas in the US.
But incomes are lower in Columbus than other major cities, aren’t they? So wouldn’t housing be more costly when factoring in incomes?
Actually, when factoring in income, Columbus fares even better compared with other metro areas: Only six of the top 50 metro areas have cost burden rates (percentage of renters paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent) below Columbus.
That being said, there are still a lot of Columbus residents who are spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent: 44 percent, according to American Community Survey data.
At the same time, the supply of housing is not keeping pace with growing population. Since 2005, Franklin County has gained more than 200,000 residents, a 21 percent increase over that period. At the same time, the number of housing units has only increased by 40,000, an 8 percent increase.
This means the population has grown two-and-a-half-times faster than the housing supply since 2005.
In order for the growth of housing in Franklin County to keep up with the growth in population, an additional 5,400 housing units would need to be built every year.
These are large numbers. The largest affordable housing developer in the country only started construction on 1,700 units nationwide last year. Developer mandates on affordable housing can make some difference on the margins, but they are not going to make up for the magnitude of this shortfall on their own.
Brookings Institution Analyst Jenny Schuetz has done fantastic work on housing markets that gives some guidance to local governments trying to ease housing supply worries.
Central cities gain much more housing from “reconfiguration,” such as modification of larger houses into apartments, or construction of accessory apartments in places like garages. Easing zoning restrictions that stand in the way of these reconfigurations could lead to more housing construction.
Zoning in general has been a culprit holding back the supply of housing units in many local markets. Many cities are still leaning on a mid-20th century vision of single-family houses when the market calls for more density, particularly near employment centers and transportation corridors.
The Minneapolis City Council made waves last month when it passed a comprehensive city planning ordinance that allowed three-family homes in residential neighborhoods, abolished parking minimums and allowed for high-density buildings along transit corridors.
While many urban attempts at housing reform have only tried to patch the problem (public housing) or force the rent price toothpaste back in the tube (rent control), Minneapolis’ approach takes the housing supply problem head on.
Minneapolis is a similarly rent-burdened city to Columbus (10th most affordable out of the top 50 metro areas). Columbus also has a fairly pro-development history. Maybe it’s time for Columbus to take a page out of Minneapolis’ book.
Rob Moore is the principal for Scioto Analysis, a Columbus-based policy analysis firm.
This column first appeared in Columbus Alive.