Bowling Green continues to grow – along with its need for affordable, safe housing. This might seem like an axiom, but the city’s current and future housing needs are a little more nuanced, according to a new study from Bowen National Research.
The 244-page study, called Bowling Green Housing Needs Assessment, details the city’s demographics, the types of housing the city needs and recommendations to create a sustainable housing market.
Since 2000, Bowling Green’s population growth has outpaced state growth, reaching 26,295 households at the end of last year. About 50 percent of renters earn $30,000 or less, and most homeowners earn more than $60,000.
The study identified three high-priority areas for rentals: extremely low-income, defined as less than $442 a month; very low-income, $442 to $736; and high-end market-rate, $1,768. The study estimated that Bowling Green could support numerous new residential units over the next few years – including 887 extremely low-income, 548 very low-income and 608 high-end market-rate units.
This projection assumes such homes are marketable, affordable and appropriately located.
Regarding for-sale homes, the study identified a high priority for homes between $100,000 to $249,000, with an estimated capacity for 529 units between $100,000 and $174,000 and 500 units between $175,000 and $249,000.
Brent Childers, director of Neighborhood and Community Services for the city of Bowling Green, helped provide input for the assessment.
“We need quality affordable rental and homeownership opportunities. That’s our No. 1 priority,” Childers said. “We’re using (the study) as a tool. It’s a resource for the community (and) it’s an opportunity to make the private market aware of what’s going on. There’s been tremendous change in recent years.”
The demographics could continue to change in the near future. Excluding people under age 25, millennials currently capture the greatest share of the housing market, with about 20 percent of people ages 25 to 34 leading households. By 2023, the report estimated that there would be significant growth in the 35 to 44 populations as well as some growth among seniors ages 65 to 74.
Poverty levels in Bowling Green remain worse than the state average. The study estimated that nearly 28 percent of Bowling Green residents and one in four children live below the federal poverty line – which is a little higher than the most recent American Community Survey five-year estimate of 26.4 percent.
Nearly 46 percent of renters are estimated to be cost-burdened – meaning they spend 30 percent or more of their income on rent – and about 15 percent of renters spend 50 percent or more of their income on housing.
During the study time frame – late 2018 through early 2019 – there were 444 vacant rental units. The “market-rate” units (conventional rentals not restricted by affordable housing laws) in the city were 91 percent occupied. On the bright side, most of these market-rate rentals were in good condition.
But there was a limited supply of low-priced homes. Most projects for low and very-low income projects have waiting lists. Public housing routinely maintains a waiting list exceeding 600, and the city currently has a waiting list of about 900 for Section 8 housing vouchers. Tax-credit, non-subsidized housing units and subsided properties similarly are 100 percent occupied and maintain waiting lists.
Tom Goodworth, president of the Builders Association of South Central Kentucky, attended a meeting Tuesday to hear the summary from Bowen National Research President Patrick Bowen. He left the meeting feeling very positive.
“The forecast for the growth in Bowling Green over the next five years is outstanding,” Goodworth said. “Compared to other cities across the U.S., they said this is a booming market here in Bowling Green … and there is a need for all types of housing, not just lower-income or higher-income.”
Goodworth thought the report addressed all the input and concerns from various factions of the housing market. From his perspective, development and land costs can be cost-prohibitive for first-time home buyers, so he was encouraged that older homes are projected to become increasingly available.
Goodworth hopes the report will guide the process in creating a healthy housing market.
“The information (Bowen) gave seemed to be spot-on. I was very optimistic with what they came up with,” Goodworth said.
Adrienne Bush, executive director of the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky, sees quite a lot of variety across the state. But although priorities differ from community to community, there’s always a common ground in the need for homes that are affordable for very-low income individuals, Bush said.
“The biggest challenge that renters face on top of affordability would be the lack of universal protections,” Bush said, like a Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, which would ensure a standard of habitability, and a fairness ordinance to protect the LGBTQ community. “Renters can’t always rely on a good rental home.”
Bush did express skepticism about the need for high-end rental homes.
“Developers tend to go where they can actually make a profit so they can keep doing what they’re doing,” Bush said. “Communities are generally building a sufficient supply of high-end rentals.”
Childers also found the need for high-end rentals surprising, but “that’s what the future demographers showed,” he said.
The study also included feedback from various segments of the public. In an online survey, 926 participants from Bowling Green and the greater Warren County area suggested they struggle with spending a high share of income toward housing costs, and that housing often does not meet their needs in regard to size, features and location and was sometimes substandard.
About 60 percent of survey respondents identified the current market as “fair” with some issues. About 28 percent rated the market as “poor,” citing high prices, limited access to public transportation and blighted properties as key issues. In the report, many rental homes had “below modern day” housing standards, including overcrowded conditions or incomplete bathroom or kitchen plumbing. But due to study limitations, there could be additional issues related to housing standards.
More than 70 percent of respondents identified a need for rentals priced below $500 and for-sale homes priced under $150,000 – with a priority for family, workforce and homeless housing.
Most respondents indicated they would be willing to pay less than $200,000 for new housing in desirable locations in Bowling Green, while rental products should be priced under $750 a month.
Childers thinks the city will continue to make progress with the new study, which could help affordable housing-related organizations obtain grants and guide the city in its investments.
In recent years, the city has allocated dollars to boost affordable housing. Among the projects, the city partnered with Habitat for Humanity to offset some costs that will allow the nonprofit to build about 20 new homes in the Durbin Estates neighborhood.
“The city has invested millions and millions of dollars in affordable housing over the years,” Childers said, and is now requesting proposals for new housing opportunities.
The full report, addendums and presentation are available on the city website at bgky.org/announcements/873.