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Older homes, lack of choice cited in Springfield housing study

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A mismatch between available housing units in the city and the income levels of those who reside in them was one of the chief issues raised in a housing study presented to Springfield City Council at its Dec. 5 luncheon.

Older housing stock – with 44% of it 50-70 years old – was another issue identified by consultants in the study, as were difficulty affording first-time home purchases and a lack of choice in housing types.

The city hired Atlanta-based APD Urban Planning and Management to prepare the study, which kicked off in November 2022. The study finds the city has 43,861 single-family detached residences, making up 92% of the housing stock. Another 909 structures are single-family attached, with 1,147 duplex, triplex or quadplex, 562 multifamily and 7 mixed use. The city also has 1,027 vacant residential lots.

The cost of the study was $257,000.

The study included myriad steps, among them data collection, two community engagement sessions, a public survey and a so-called windshield survey that involved a car fitted with a 360-degree camera filming nearly 48,000 housing structures to gather information about their age and condition. The study found 97% of residential structures are occupied.

ADP representatives presenting the findings were Deborah Jenson, senior planning and design manager, and Reginald White Jr., urban planner.

Jenson said some of Springfield’s problems are not unique to the city but are ones that are seen all across the country.

“When it comes to housing, overall, there’s a lack of choice in housing types,” she said. “You either have large multifamily that for the most part appeals to the student population, or you have detached single family.”

Because much of the housing stock is older, those properties are much more expensive to bring up to date with electrical, insulation and heating, ventilation and air conditioning, she said.

“There is some substandard rental housing stock, and it’s difficult to afford to buy a home for a personal homebuyer,” she said.

Stabilizing neighborhoods should be a focus, according to Jenson.

“Stabilizing neighborhoods means you reduce turnover, so perhaps there’s more of a balance between rentals and owner occupied,” she said.

Ways to accomplish that include expanding homeowner education, establishing a land bank to acquire home properties to develop for affordable housing, creating employer-assisted housing programs, and maintaining and upgrading neighborhood open space.

White said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has set 30% of one’s annual mean income as a federal guideline for housing expenditures, and that means the average person in Springfield who rents shouldn’t spend more than $1,200 per month on housing expenses.

White added the average home value in Springfield is $232,000, according to data from the 2020 census, and the average home sale price in Springfield is $189,000.

The report included multiple case studies of housing solutions that have worked in other urban areas. City Manager Jason Gage said council should take time to study the report and then set its housing priority items.

Mayor Ken McClure said council would need to discuss the study again soon.

Jenson said the city is at the right time and place to start to turn the tide.

“Most places we work in are very distressed, so you haven’t gotten there,” she said. “Kind of nipping it in the bud now shows a lot of foresight.”

Study data
The study revealed the following demographic data:

  • Springfield experienced 5% population growth from 2010-20.
  • Homeownership declined by 17% 2010-20 to a current level of 42%.
  • The largest age cohort of the general populace is 20-29 years old.
  • The population ages 65 and older is projected to increase nearly 25% by 2030.
  • Some 29% of city residents have attained a bachelor’s degree or greater.
  • Median household income is $37,491, the lowest compared to Springfield’s peer cities in the study – Columbia, Independence, Kansas City and St. Louis.
  • The poverty rate is 22%.

Investor ownership
The study identified large investors as those who own 20 or more properties. These are concentrated in the northwest quadrant of the city.

A breakdown by neighborhood shows five neighborhoods with a high percentage of ownership by large investors:

  • West Central, 205 properties, 11.1% of neighborhood stock.
  • Grant Beach, 162, 9.9%.
  • Robberson, 120, 9.7%.
  • Doling Park, 168, 8.9%.
  • Heart of Westside, 130, 8.5%.

Most of the large-investor-owned real estate is in good (45.9%) or fair (37.5%) condition, with fair condition defined as requiring $1,000 or less in repairs. The remaining 16.6% are poor, vacant, deteriorated or dilapidated.

The study also identified residential properties owned by LLC or LP corporations:

  • Downtown, 69 properties, 58.5%
  • West Central, 783, 42.3%
  • Robberson, 394, 31.7%
  • Weller, 316, 30.4%
  • Grant Beach, 489, 29.9%

Condition of these buildings were 50.9% good, 33.7% fair and 14.8% poor, vacant, deteriorated or dilapidated.

The study found that investors own up to 26% of all residential properties, primarily detached single-family buildings concentrated in older neighborhoods.

Councilmember Brandon Jenson, in an interview after the presentation, said the city has to make sure it is providing incentives and financial support to help investors fix their properties and keep rent affordable to prevent the displacement of tenants.

The city also needs a stronger focus on enforcement, Jenson said, notably a move away from a system based on resident complaints.

“It’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that we have empires of slum in our community, and these have to be broken up,” he said. “If these property owners aren’t going to maintain their properties in accordance with our laws and with the needs of those they serve, then they should not be operating housing.”

Jenson said the city has the mechanisms to address the problem, but staff are limited in their ability, since complaints take up a lot of their time.

“Switching to a method where we’re focusing on these empires and allocating our staff time to address those that are the most serious life-safety threats first, to me, is the way to start making meaningful change,” he said.

At the Nov. 27 council meeting, the first quarterly report of nuisance violations was presented to council and included a list of names of top violating properties and property owners.

Richard Ollis, a board member with Restore SGF, an organization dedicated to restoring the city’s historic neighborhoods, said it is clear that investing in neighborhoods is important.

“We’re kind of on that precipice of maybe teetering over one way or, you know, pushing ourselves up to where housing is better,” he said.

He said that he is interested in partnering with neighborhoods to employ strategies that look and feel aesthetically pleasing.

“In the future, I don’t think we can all live in a single-family home on a third-of-an-acre lot,” he said.

Restore SGF is in the midst of its first Block Challenge Grant Program, which provides financial incentives for neighborhood teams to make improvements that are apparent from the street view, and it is about to implement a down-payment assistance program for homebuyers – one of the recommendations offered by the consulting firm.


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