No vacancy: Council grapples with housing shortage
Not long ago it seemed as though a for-sale sign lurked on about every street corner in Greencastle. It was like Collins Evans or Tucker Schneider were somebody running for City Council.
Four or five years ago dozens of houses were on the market in the Edgelea Subdivision alone.
Yet now apparently there is a housing shortage, Greencastle City Council President Adam Cohen noted at the panel's recent June meeting at City Hall.
He suggested only five or 10 houses are on the market within city limits, and across all of Putnam County a little more than 100 options exist for potential home buyers.
"The number that stuck out in my head," Cohen said, "is that in all of Putnam County, 108 total houses at all price points are available, and that was it. That is not much."
Cohen said he and Mayor Bill Dory have spoken a number of times about the lack of housing and what city officials might do to attract more people to live in Greencastle, especially upper management and administrative personnel from local businesses, the university and schools.
But it's more than if we build it, they will come.
"I've asked the mayor if next month he could give us kind of an overview of what actions, and there are a few, the Council can take to try to encourage more housing development within the city."
One project that is under way is the new Whispering Winds Subdivision, the 30-acre subdivision that broke ground in November 2016 and is under development by Jared Grable off Zinc Mill Road and County Road 200 South.
"We've been actively talking to some developers," Mayor Dory said, "so we're keeping those conversations going."
Councilman Mark Hammer brought up perhaps the elephant in the room for this continuing discussion -- annexation.
"If we're going to really look at getting some houses built," Hammer said, "we're probably looking at annexation because there's not a lot of empty ground within city limits."
The city hasn't annexed any major property since Mike Harmless was mayor in the early 1990s when it took in Fillmore Road just north of State Road 240 and added a couple other small areas but dropped consideration of Edgelea and property west of the railroad tracks on West Walnut Street over objections by landowners and a perceived inability to provide necessary city services -- most notably sanitary sewers -- in the prescribed amount of time to affect annexation.
The question remains, Council President Cohen said: "What can we do as a Council to encourage more houses to be built, which would then encourage more people to live here versus losing a lot of people to other communities."
He said the issue has hit home in his office at DePauw as new hires have struggled to find homes to buy or rentals to lease.
Councilman Steve Fields, however, noted that there is a major difference in such staff members and upper management or administrative personnel looking for a home in Greencastle.
"When you're talking about upper management personnel at one of the factories or an administrative position at DePauw," he said, "they're not looking for the average $100,000 or $150,000 home, they're looking for $300,000 to $500,000 homes."
"That's true," he said, "but the people in my office are looking for the $100,000 or $150,000 homes, and when you've got maybe five or 10 houses in the city and 108 in the county, you don't have much of any price point available."
Cohen also suggested that some untapped property remains in locations within city limits that could be useful for new housing.
"There is apparently more available in kind of scattered lots in the city than I think we realize," he said. "It's just a matter of how do we incentivize doing that to get that infill going again."
City officials realized the issue was not going to be resolved in one night at the monthly City Council meeting.
"We'll talk in July," Cohen said.
"Be aware of it; we're talking about it, and it'll involve money as it usually does."
The Council's July meeting is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, July 12 at City Hall.