Putting the city’s positive and negative housing aspects and challenges under one roof is the goal of the Oberlin Comprehensive Housing Study.
Representatives from Cleveland State University’s Center for Community Planning and Development began the study Thursday, May 19 by meeting with residents and an approximately 10-member steering committee comprised of builders, heads of Oberlin nonprofit housing groups, and local and Lorain County officials.
“We’re really interested in hearing today from you about what you see as the big issues and big questions that we need to be looking at,” center program manager Kirby Date told committee members and about a dozen residents who attended the meeting at the Oberlin public library. “This will guide us as we get into doing an analysis of understanding what the big points are that we make sure we tackle.”
The study was proposed last year by then-city manager Eric Norenberg after Oberlin city council members indefinitely tabled converting the former Green Acres Children’s Home into 56 units of low and medium-income housing.
The decision was in response to residents opposing the conversion of the 15-acre property located by East Lorain and East College streets and Oberlin Road.
David Sonner, Zion Community Community Development board of directors president, said the project ran into Oberlin’s “historical antagonisms” of class, race, and town/gown divisions. “If you could give us any direction on how to wend our way through that thicket, boy, we would be grateful,” Sonner said.
Date and center director Kathryn Wertheim Hexter said they were unsure how to end Green Acres opposition but promised direction on improving housing conditions to entice more people to Oberlin.
Among the study tasks are categorizing homes by age, condition, and size; analyzing home prices and household demographics; comparing housing affordability to neighboring communities; and identifying gaps in the housing market.
Among the city’s attributes are its public schools, the culture provided by Oberlin College, and bicycle-friendly policies, said resident Scott Medwid. “It’s very livable and you pretty much know everyone,” he said.
Drawbacks cited included aging housing stock, elderly homeowners on fixed incomes who can’t afford repairs, and landlords who don’t maintain their properties. Other negatives mentioned were deteriorating or foreclosed homes, a lack of space to build homes, and a lack of construction financing.
Committee member Stephan Kamrass, owner of Sareth Builders, said incentives such as the 15-year tax abatements granted to buyers of homes he’s building on Cooper Foster Park Road in Lorain are needed in Oberlin. Kamrass cited a Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controller in Oberlin who obtained an abatement to buy one of his homes.
“It always comes down to money. Always. It’s what makes sense for his family,” he said. “These things have to be considered or people just aren’t going to build here.”
With baby boomers aging, Kamrass and committee member Larry Funk, who owns North Shore Properties, said building smaller, one-floor homes is a trend. Homes with no staircases and wide doorways are more accessible for older and people with physical disabilities.
Funk said Oberlin’s job market is “stagnant” and more jobs are needed to attract younger home-buyers. “Housing needs to go hand-in-hand with some economic development,” he said.
The center, which is being paid $22,566 for the study, has done similar studies for Kent, Cuyahoga County, and Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood.
Date said after the meeting that the study will be data-driven, but will also include residents’ perspectives.
A community open house will be held in September and the report is due by year’s end.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.
Photos by Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune Kirby Date, Cleveland State University Center for Community Planning and Development program manager, speaks at a meeting on Oberlin’s new housing study.