SOUTH BEND — Single-family homes have traditionally been a priority when it comes to housing development, and they are often seen as a sign of a city’s health. But as South Bend’s population changes, should its housing stock change too?
Instead of single-family home developments, a new study argues, the local market today has room to absorb more alternate housing — duplexes, town homes, condominiums and small-scale apartment buildings — as the city’s demographics change. They are referred to as the “missing middle” of housing stock, the homes in between single-family houses and large apartment complexes.
The study by Zimmerman/Volk Associates, a housing consulting firm, says the south, northwest and west sides of South Bend can absorb a total of 180 and 230 new “missing middle” housing units annually. The city has plenty of space for smaller housing projects in areas where builders haven’t always looked, the study says. The apartments recommended by the study would range in rent prices of $450 to $900 per month, and condominium purchase prices could land between $70,000 and $165,000.
Laurie Volk, co-founder of the firm, said many Midwestern cities have a large supply of detached homes.
“That’s great for a predominantly family market,” Volk said. “However, most cities today aren’t predominantly families. There’s a mix of older and younger single couples, baby boomers and millennials. … and when you have a potential market of households that are one to two people, and housing stock is mostly single-family detached, there’s a mismatch between market and inventory.”
Volk believes that South Bend’s patchwork of vacant lots, many bordered by existing homes, is prime territory for smaller developers to build on, in addition to renovating vacant or dilapidated homes.
The $45,000 study was commissioned by the city’s Board of Public Works to help find a solution for the vacant lots created by the “1,000 Homes in 1,000 Days” initiative by Mayor Pete Buttigieg to demolish or rehabilitate blighted homes.
Pam Meyer, director of the city’s office of neighborhood development, hopes the study provides developers with a view of the possibilities for neighborhoods near downtown.
“I don’t know that the city has had an opportunity in any particular neighborhood to have this much vacant land available,” Meyer said.
The question is how many of those developers will be interested.
While nonprofits often take on smaller, infill housing work in neighborhoods, Meyer acknowledged, “What we don’t find is a private developer necessarily willing to come in and just do one house or do two or three.”
Still, Meyer says, the city wants to promote neighborhoods with a mix of housing, including affordable homes.
“We’re looking to have a mixture of incomes in our neighborhoods,” Meyer said. “We think that makes a very healthy neighborhood.”
The firm previously conducted a study for the city’s downtown in 2013 and worked on market analysis for the city’s west side in 2014 and 2015.
As part of its methodology, Zimmerman/Volk looks at the number of people moving in and out of an area, their housing demands, affordable rent for different income levels and other variables.
David Sieradzki, a partner with Century Builders, said his company would be interested in pursuing more “missing middle” housing, provided the city adjusts some of its zoning laws.
“We’re currently building some townhomes, which have a smaller footprint,” Sieradzki said. “It’s a lot easier to pull a single-family home permit than try to pull off a mixed-used or attached project that’s a little more ambitious but gets smaller units. … It also hasn’t been done around here very much, if at all. Once people have success, it will be duplicated.”
Mike Keen and Joanie Downs-Krostenko, both former professors at Indiana University South Bend, now focus on smaller housing projects. Describing himself as an “accidental” developer, Keen decided to take his ideas for small, sustainable homes and put them into practice. He now heads a small development business, Thrive Michiana, and is partnering with New Energy Homes to build six houses in the near northwest side.
Four of the homes will be Habitat for Humanity Houses, and the remaining two will be sold by Thrive Michiana and New Energy Homes. Featuring sustainable technology and the potential for solar power, the 1,300-square-foot homes are meant to reduce energy cost and are expected to sell for about $150,000 to $160,000.
Downs-Krostenko bought her first home to renovate in 2007. Since then, she’s renovated eight and led a group of neighbors in restoring another as the president of Chapin Park, Inc.
“There are more people who are, for all kinds of really valid reasons, turning away from the model that we had for the better part of 20th century,” the former history professor said, “where Americans moved up and out and got bigger spaces and more amenities.”
Keen, whose homes are set to begin construction in a few weeks, said the results of the study are “confirmation” that infill housing developments in South Bend can be viable.
“It’s very challenging for large-scale developers to do urban infill, because they work on scale,” Keen said. “What we have here, we have a lot of one-lot, two-lot areas, and some areas with larger lots.”
City Council member Regina Williams-Preston, whose district on the west side was partially contained in the study area, said she’s optimistic about the study’s conclusions but doesn’t want the city to forget about residents who live farther west and need help with home repairs and rehabilitating vacant lots.
“What I’m really interested in is challenging the notion of … the way we do development: You start with your downtown, do a great job with that, then you move to the first circle, radius, and work your way out,” Williams-Preston said. “We can’t forget the farthest west communities. If we don’t do something now, those will be the next homes that become vacant or abandoned.”
– South Bend Mix up its Housing Stock