As Northeast Indiana grows to 1 million residents, the biggest hurdle is housing

FORT WAYNE, Indiana (WANE) – New residents are coming from Michigan, Ohio and especially Illinois to live in Fort Wayne and northeastern Indiana. They are looking for new jobs, a more affordable lifestyle where their paychecks go further, and better housing.

“Northeast Indiana compares exceptionally well to our Midwest competitors. If anything, our competitors are the states further south that don’t address four seasons,” says Michael Galbraith, adviser to the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and the Northeast Regional Development Authority.

“I think four seasons is a really good thing, but that’s what I grew up as a Midwesterner, so we’re really attractive to other Midwesterners. We are seeing positive migration from Michigan, especially Illinois. We’re seeing a lot of migration out of Ohio, so we’re seeing Midwesterners from our contiguous states choosing to live in northeastern Indiana,” Galbraith said.

But housing is the catch.

Michael Galbraith, an advisor to the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, says there is positive growth in the region, but with that population growth comes a great need for housing.

Northeast Indiana’s 11 counties are short of housing — every type of housing, from rentals and homes to townhomes, condos, and single-family homes.

Galbraith, who is also President of Fort Wayne’s Downtown Improvement District, has his finger on the pulse of progress and is a good candidate to explain the region’s growth.

By 2030, borough leaders hope to have one million residents, a goal the state set in 2016, Galbraith said. With a $42 million grant, three state regions—Fort Wayne, South Bend, and Evansville—set out to develop their territory into an economic powerhouse outside of Indianapolis.

“From what we’re seeing from the Census Bureau, our snapshots, which are sort of an estimate, we can say with certainty that the trend is up,” Galbraith said. “We’re seeing more population growth in more counties in Indiana and it’s accelerating (upward). In the past maybe 1,000 or 2,000 people came to the region. Now between 3,000 and 6,000 come to the region every year.”

Allen County in Northeast Indiana is sort of the heart of this first draw, Galbraith said. “If you say ‘Where’s Churubusco or Auburn?’ most people won’t know it as well as ‘Where’s Fort Wayne?’ In general, people there see the first move to the region.”

But that’s not often their last move, says Galbraith, “So the beauty of Northeast Indiana is that you have a lot of choices about where you want to live. Some people prefer a small town environment, some prefer a lake environment, some prefer a city environment, so in Northeast Indiana we have a lot to choose from.”

According to the latest estimates, the population of the region is more than 800,000, with at least 10,000 more residents, see the organization’s website. The upward trend indicates population progress, while 30 years ago the trend was downward, Galbraith said.

The new residents are looking for new jobs, but people are becoming more sophisticated when it comes to looking at their personal finances, Galbraith said. A salary of $50,000 in Chicago doesn’t compare to $45,000 in Fort Wayne, where the cost of living is much lower. And taxes are lower here.

Due to the increasing population development, the region is experiencing an increasing demand for housing in smaller towns and the need for different types of housing.

“We have a lot of single-family homes, but not a lot of apartments or urban townhouses,” Galbraith said. However, single-family homes for $80,000 to $180,000 are urgently needed. With construction costs skyrocketing, developers are struggling to build a single-family home for less than $200,000, local developers said.

Most of this is based on the cost of labor and raw materials. Also, the cost of farmland has become so high that the cost of building cheaper single-family homes is prohibitive.

The region could absorb between 3,000 and 5,000 homes each year, Galbraith said. In Allen County 2,000 to 4,000 households. And these numbers include every type of housing.

“When we look at the workforce, the first thing they want to look at is when they’re asking, ‘Can I come to Northeast Indiana to take a job?'”

“And that’s the kind of bottom of the pyramid in economic development, when it comes to attracting the workers that our businesses need, and if we can’t have those houses, we can’t attract workers,” Galbraith said. As Northeast Indiana grows to 1 million residents, the biggest hurdle is housing

Dais Johnston

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