Priced out: Johnson County’s affordable housing crisis intensifies

When she began her search for a home that better fit her budget a few months ago, Laura Segundo was shocked by the prices.

However, the Greenwood resident hoped the prices would drop in a few months. They did not.

“The prices kept going up and up. Houses that were for sale a few years ago, the people are now asking for double what they were then,” she said.

Segundo currently lives in an apartment with her daughter and her son. Over the last 10 years, she has seen both home and apartment prices continually go up, she said.

She began her search by looking for a house in Greenwood that was under $200,000 — although her preference was for a house between $150,000-$175,000.

“In the neighborhood we were looking at, once we saw the prices go up even more, we decided not to. It’s not worth it,” Segundo said.

Now, Segundo is moving into a home her daughter’s father bought in Franklin three years ago. But even that home had a higher price than he was expecting. He was just to be able to buy the house on the market when he did, Segundo said.

Segundo is not alone with her difficulties in finding an affordable home for her family, as a recent report shows that Johnson County is not an affordable place to live for low-income families.

Low income cost burden

In April, the National Low Income Housing Coalition and Prosperity Indiana released a report on availability and affordability of homes across the nation, and more specifically, the state. The report found that nationwide, there was a shortage of seven million affordable and available rental homes for the lowest-income households. It found that 71% of the poorest renter households are “severely cost-burdened,” spending more than half of their incomes on housing.

Statewide, there is a shortage of 153,033 affordable housing units for the lowest-income households. Indiana has the worst housing cost burden in the Midwest, the report said.

Locally, 76% of low-income Johnson County households have a severe cost burden, meaning that they spend more than half of their income on housing. The county has 25 affordable and available homes per 100 extremely low-income renter households. This is below the statewide average of 38, according to the report.

The median sale price for a single-family home in Johnson County was $302,300 in May, the highest median ever recorded since Jan. 2019, data from the MIBOR Realtor Association shows. As a general rule of thumb, MIBOR, along with other realtors, often say homebuyers shouldn’t take out a mortgage that is more than 2.5 times their average household income. So in order to buy a $302,000 home, the homebuyer would be recommended to have a household income of around $121,000 or more.

The median household income in Johnson County is $72,928, based on the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Local affordable housing advocates see this reflected every day in their clients.

When organizations talk about affordable housing, sometimes called attainable or workforce housing, it generally refers to when residents are spending 30% or less of their income on housing. Surpassing this percentage can create a domino effect, which could impact their ability to pay other bills or afford groceries, said Jill Pierce, coach for Circles Johnson County — the anti-poverty program sponsored by Bridges Alliance of Johnson County. The alliance is a collaboration between businesses, social service agencies, churches and individuals working together to end poverty in the community.

Some places in Johnson County are income-based, but these places — often rentals — have very long application waits. The Kids in Crisis-Intervention Team, or KIC-It, recently sent someone over to a Franklin neighborhood for a rental, and they were told the waitlist was between 12-18 months, said Katie Schwarz, director of KIC-It. The organization collaborates with other groups and agencies to support young people, ages 16 to 25, who are struggling to break the cycle of homelessness.

When advocates are trying to help participants make a sustainable budget, housing is a major factor and the cost is a barrier, Pierce said.

“For most of us, housing is a human right. Treating it as a luxury is where we can get in trouble as a county,” Pierce said.

Solving the crisis

There are ways to help with the lack of affordable housing, but there’s no immediate fix, housing advocates say.

Both Pierce and Schwarz said the first step is having conversations with local leaders and communities. Local leaders need to get serious about taking on the affordable housing crisis and find ways to incentivize affordable housing developers, Pierce said.

Amanda Ott, of Bridges Alliance, says a housing study and a housing task force are needed for Johnson County. The alliance is working with Aspire Johnson County, the county-wide chamber of commerce, on this project. Right now, the groups are still working to fund the project, Ott said.

The hope is the study would give credence to pleas before government officials. They’re also hoping the results will show leaders the importance of affordable housing increasing the local workforce, Ott said.

“They (local officials) have done a good job at focusing on industry, but no one can afford to live here,” Ott said. “You can work, live and play, but some of us in the Johnson County area can’t live in the Johnson County area.”

The mayors of Franklin and Greenwood are aware of the need for affordable housing, they said say few companies have been interested in affordable housing projects.

Mayor Steve Barnett said the city of Franklin officials carefully vet housing projects and only the projects that are in the best interest of the community are the ones that move forward in the planning process.

Over the next five years, 1,200 new housing units are expected to be built from the mid-$200,000 range to over $500,000, as well as several market-rate apartment complexes.

The city had supported a proposal for a 55-and-over, low-income housing project, however, because the state did not approve the project for the subsidy needed to build the project, it will not be built, he said.

Having a variety of housing stock is vital to the community’s health, and the Barnett plans to continue to encourage housing investment in the community. The goal for housing is grow Franklin in the most responsible way possible, he said.

Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers says the city is working with a few companies on potential affordable housing projects. These developers are proposing a mixture of partially subsidized housing and market-rate housing, he said.

However, not many developers are looking to build affordable housing projects in the city, Myers said. City officials have instead focused on attracting higher wage jobs, so workers can afford entry-level housing in the city, Myers said.

The market has driven the cost of entry-level housing up, and with the amount of affordable housing available in the city, the rates are going to continue to go up. However, there still may be a few affordable places left, Myers said.