Director of housing study gives an update

A study that aims to analyze whether there is adequate housing in Wells County is a couple months in the works, and analysts will now work to put together a feasible strategy.

That was the update from Mike Higbee, managing director for Indianapolis-based Development Concepts Inc., who presented to the Wells County Commissioners Monday. Economic Development Director Chad Kline said the study is ongoing and Higbee’s information is an update on where they are and some information they’ve obtained.

They are about two and a half months in the strategy, Higbee said, and most of the time has been absorbing information from about 12 to 15 interviews so far. He called that the “sponge phase.”

They’ve collected a lot of market information, talking to real estate experts and local leadership. He’s driven around the county, and he said he didn’t really appreciate before the “expanse” of the county.

Meanwhile, there is more than one housing market in the county.

“You can’t treat southern Wells the way you would treat northern Wells. You already knew that, I needed to know that,” Higbee said.

Another “ah ha” moment for him so far is that he doesn’t think the Fort Wayne market is as influential on Wells County as he originally thought.

Higbee also said the connection between economic development and housing is significant.

“You are going to home grow your growth,” he said.

The schools, he said, can distinguish the community so that people look to settle here. An age cohort that isn’t growing in Wells County is the “younger worker” to fill jobs — and schools play a piece in the housing strategy.

There are voids in the marketplace, Higbee said. The product getting generated here mostly is the “upperend single family homes” and some “converted single family homes to rentals” and other rentals, but not a lot.

That leaves the midlevel, “workforce housing” not being developed.

How those voids are filled, and how they translate to quality housing and community development are important questions that need good answers, Higbee said, so they will spend some time on those questions.

He anticipates spending about 60 days working on the housing strategy. He described Wells County as a “growth-challenged area.”

“Those are issues we will try to address in a way that fits Wells County,” he added.

Kline said the community has been willing to participate and passionate about these types of conversations.

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