Editorial: Affordable housing must be priority for Hamilton County to keep growing

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When you’re talking about Hamilton County—which has the state’s highest per capita income at $77,263 and highest median household income at $107,710—affordable housing is not top of mind.

After all, at 4.2%, the county has the lowest poverty rate in Indiana; the state rate is 12%.

But dismissing affordable housing as an issue is a mistake if the affluent suburbs north of Indianapolis—and the businesses that are located in them—want to continue growing at breakneck speed.

That’s because many of the workers who keep those businesses afloat and provide the amenities that make the communities popular often can’t afford to live there.

In fact, a report commissioned three years ago by the Hamilton County Area Neighborhood Development—better known as HAND—found the county was short some 25,000 apartments, homes or other rental units that people with low and moderate incomes could afford.

At the time, the average house was selling in Hamilton County for about $313,000 and the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,168 per month. Today, the average home price has risen 7%, to $335,750.

That’s too much for many working in the hospitality, retail and restaurant sector or even for entry-level municipal employees, teachers and public safety officers. And because there’s no regional bus system, the resulting commutes from Indianapolis or less-expensive rural areas restrict the employment pool to those with a car.

Elected officials in Hamilton County know that’s a problem, and the communities have taken some steps to try to resolve it. Westfield, for example, has been working with developers to incorporate moderately priced housing options into the proposals they take before the city. Noblesville has included low-income units in a mixed-use project underway downtown. And in Fishers, a low-income housing contractor is constructing an apartment complex at 11144 Lantern Road with units available to renters who earn 50% to 80% of the area’s median income.

But more affordable units are needed. And so we were pleased to see the Fishers City Council approve the rezone of 1.8 acres at the southwest corner of 141st Street and Cumberland Road, where HAND plans to build 11 affordable, for-rent homes.

The Cumberland Cottages units will be available to tenants making 60% of the area’s median income. In Hamilton County, that equates to $39,000 for a two-person household.

At 5-4, the council’s vote was close and controversial, and it came after the Fishers Plan Commission voted 8-1 to send the proposal to the city council with an unfavorable recommendation. Neighbors had complained to the plan commission about the project’s perceived impacts to the area’s density, traffic, safety and property values.

But HAND told city councilors that affordable housing needs to be located near jobs. And that similar projects had not hurt property values. A consultant also said the project wouldn’t create traffic problems.

We think the Fishers City Council made the right call—and we hope there are more projects to come. Hamilton County’s growth depends on it.•


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3 thoughts on “Editorial: Affordable housing must be priority for Hamilton County to keep growing

  1. It’s ironic that many don’t want affordable housing in their neighbors, but then they get mad when they can’t get their pizza in a timely manner because only one person is available to work at their favorite pizza joint. Yeah, that was this past week in Fishers…. #TrueStory

  2. Coming back from South Bend, I needed to go to Carmel Welding in downtown Carmel. I got off on the exit before the one I needed to get on. In 10 years, it’s a whole different world. Hamilton County has stuffed their northern county line with as many low income apartments as possible. They are like mushrooms, they just appear, quickly; before anyone can provide a legal backstop. They will soon have their own high school, have public transportation to their jobs at hotels and medical outposts. Carmel has discovered their way to get everything they want, neighboring counties be damned.