Owner-occupied housing fell by 8 percent in Portage County, while rental housing grew 15.6 percent, according to preliminary results of an analysis of barriers to fair housing choice conducted by Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium.
The consortium, which is looking at how people live in their communities, held a public forum Thursday at the Portage County Regional Planning office in Ravenna.
The results were presented by Rob Gaudin of Western Economic Services. The survey area covers 12 counties and comprises six housing markets. It covers changes from 2000 to 2010, and documents how the region is working to overcome any barriers to fair housing choice.
Single-family homes increased by 6,442 units to 47,342 and comprise 70.8 percent of housing in the county.
The next biggest type is apartments, at 9,400 units, growing from 13.7 percent to 14.1 percent of the total.
The number of mobile homes at decreased from 5,514 to 4,679 units, dropping from 9.2 percent to 7.0 percent of the total.
The number of vacant housing units in the county rose from 3,647 to 5,250 or from 6.1 to 7.8 percent of the total. Of those units, 60.5 percent were for rent, 32.9 percent were for sale and 23.8 percent were rented or sold but not yet occupied. Another 7.4 percent were units for seasonal, recreational or occasional use.
Gaudin said he was concerned by the increase in the "other vacant" category, Those units are not on the market for one reason or another -- either abandoned or in foreclosure. And they can be "blighting influence" on the surrounding area if allowed deteriorate.
At the same time Gaudin said "you should congratulate yourself." He said the number of vacant properties in other parts of the survey area increased 250 percent due to the recession and bank foreclosures.
"It doesn't mean you can forget about it, it just means your problem is a little smaller," he said.
After hearing the results of the analysis one man, who said he was a Tallmadge resident, objected to fair housing law in general.
"I think it should be eliminated. It's a violation of property rights," he said. He also said government should not provide subsidized housing for low-income residents, and should be left up to private business to provide.
A woman, who said she was a real estate agent, said she believed the regional visioning study was an effort to force everyone to live according to one set of rules. "You're saying everyone should live within 20 minutes of where they work and ride bikes to work," she said.
Anthony Kobak, project manager for NEOSCC, denied there was any attempt to coerce anyone.
"We have no authority to do any of this," Kobak said.
The real estate agent also said she thought "Realtors have done really an excellent job" of educating potential buyers and sellers about fair housing rules. She said she thought the analysis of impediments dwelt too much on the negative.
Kobak said the final draft of the fair housing analysis is due out in June, when another round of public meetings will be held to receive more comments before it is published.
Once that's done, it is up to local communities to determine how, or whether, to implement any of the recommendations from the regional study, Kobak said.
Kobak said there have been similar comments against regionalism and fair housing rules at "about half" of the 13 public forums held so far.
According to the goals statement on its website, vibrantneo.org, the Vibrant NEO 2040 initiative is founded on the idea "that a shared vision for the future, developed through a robust community and stakeholder engagement process, will lead us to a healthier, more economically and socially equitable future for the region."
That process is aimed to help some 400 communities in a dozen counties of northeast Ohio. The program is being directed by the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium, which is looking at how people live in their communities.
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