Reprinted with permission from the Vincennes Sun-Commercial newspaper
Elected officials and community leaders have for years spoken candidly about the need for more mid-range housing.
Members of the Knox County Development Corp. now plan to find out whether such a need exists or not.
On Friday, during the KCDC board of directors’ monthly meeting, CEO Chris Pfaff outlined the objectives of such a study.
“The consensus has been that we have a bit of a workforce shortage,” Pfaff said. “And if we are to attract new businesses, we have to address the lack of housing.
“We will not prosper without it.”
Pfaff, in a brief presentation to the board via Zoom, said Knox County has experienced decades of either no growth or slow growth in population. That has resulted in little-to-no new construction.
The KCDC’s message, he said, is that “quality housing is essential to economic diversity.”
“We must attract new enterprises, creative entrepreneurs and young households who will become future civic and business leaders,” he said. “These people, as well as the region’s own children and grandchildren, need a place to call home.”
Pfaff said in talking with local officials over the last several months, the perception of a housing shortage runs deep.
It’s a seller’s market, he said, with good homes often selling quickly and above the original asking price.
Officials with Good Samaritan and Vincennes University, even the Vincennes Community School Corp., have often said they lose employees to neighboring counties.
Even existing employees choose to live outside Knox County because the housing stock is healthier.
Locals assume the most urgent need, Pfaff said, are homes between $120,000 and $250,000.
The study, Pfaff explained, will identify whether or not some of these local, common assumptions are true.
Such information would benefit a variety of organizations, he said, specifically the KCDC itself, service providers, builders, employers and city and county government leaders.
Pfaff began seeking entities interested in embarking on a housing study weeks ago. City and county officials as well as VU and Good Samaritan have already signed on to be partners.
The KCDC has already hired Thomas P. Miller and Associates in Indianapolis for the work. It’s possible the study could be done in as little as five months.
Expectations of the study, Pfaff said, would be to properly assess the city’s current housing stock, better understand the gaps within it, and identify the best way to spur the growth found necessary.
The city’s Redevelopment Commission, too, is a partner in the housing study; its members for years have been exploring solutions to the perceived lack of mid-range housing, and only recently they took action.
The RDC last month approved a gift of $342,000 to three local families operating as REM Development Group, ones planning to convert the floors of the Oliphant building into condominiums and build new residential and commercial space on the adjacent Gimbel Corner at Second and Main streets.
The RDC, too, has committed another $218,000 in infrastructure costs associated with about 14 homes Sure Clean Inc. is looking to build in an area of Hart Street. That project is set to get underway as early as next month.
And members are now considering a third housing project after being approached last month by Butch and Eric Niehaus with Niehaus Companies, which specializes in building materials, about a proposed housing complex dubbed Lincoln Heights.
The Niehaus brothers are preparing to purchase multiple lots adjacent to Quail Run Road, specifically behind Herman Family Dentistry.
The plan, they told the RDC, is to work with builders to construct as many as 129 homes in that space. But as their financial request is much larger — $2.3 million in anticipated infrastructure costs — RDC members are moving slowly.