Thinking outside the single-family box: Why diverse housing options matter for communities

By Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance | | 11.17.23

Providing diverse housing options within a community is crucial for creating a vibrant and resilient environment that caters to the evolving needs of its residents. From young professionals to families and retirees, the journey through life and professional endeavors varies, demanding a spectrum of housing choices.

In a study titled “Housing Diversity Makes Communities More Resilient against Economic Downturns” published by Housing Matters, researchers discovered that communities with diverse housing types were more resilient during housing market crashes. The researchers analyzed 14 metropolitan areas and found that neighborhoods with greater housing diversity experienced lower foreclosure rates.

Affordable rental units, homes for first-time buyers, and downsizing options are vital components of a well-rounded community.

“Households also look different than they did 50 years ago,” said Brad Coffing, Research Analyst at MIBOR Realtor Association. “People are putting off marriage and children until later, living alone longer, living longer and wanting to age in place. It’s become increasingly difficult for a single income household to afford a home, and it’s become increasingly difficult to downsize from a larger because the options aren’t available.”

Housing intricately intersects with other community necessities, such as childcare and transportation. In communities like central Indiana, where public transportation is not fully developed, affordable housing becomes even more critical.

A lack of accessible housing near workplaces can drive workers farther away, shortchanging local businesses in labor.

“Central Indiana is still a relatively affordable place from a housing perspective,” said Coffing. “However, when you add in the cost of transportation, we’re no longer as competitive or affordable. And people make rational decisions on trade-offs regarding pay versus commute time, and cost.”

MIBOR sees diverse housing is akin to a diversified investment portfolio, offering resilience and adaptability to unforeseen challenges.

“A rational person wouldn’t put all their retirement into one stock,” Coffing said. “Instead, we diversify our investments because we know it creates more resiliency. Diverse communities are more resilient and less impacted by (economic) shocks because those communities provide more options and because not all residents are impacted the same way.”

Coffing noted that Johnson County grapples with challenges to diverse housing typical in many communities. This includes rising costs due to inflation and supply chain issues, labor shortages, restrictive regulations and zoning, and public pushback on new or different developments.

The imperative to develop diverse housing options aligns seamlessly with Aspire's mission for Johnson County's economic growth and sustainability.

“As our workforce grows, ages, has a family, wants to downsize, wants to enter the workforce, you can see that a one-size-fits-all approach to housing limits our ability to hang on to that workforce,” said Amanda Rubadue, Vice President of Economic Development at Aspire.

“That’s why it’s important to continue to develop diverse options for the diverse workforce we want to attract and retain in Johnson County.”

In the contemporary workforce landscape, employers are increasingly drawn to locations abundant in talent.

“The fact of the matter is employers are going to where they can find talent. It used to be that economic development was ‘chasing smokestacks,’ or chasing employers. But talent at all levels is increasingly driving the location and investment decisions.”

Enhancing housing diversity, walkability, amenities, and overall quality of life contributes significantly to attracting a skilled workforce. A community that caters to the varied needs of its residents not only thrives socially but also positions itself as an attractive hub for sustained economic growth and prosperity.